Close to 50 000 people are expected to flock to the southern Bulgarian town of Rakovski – which normally has a population about 17 000 – on May 6 2019 when Pope Francis visits, according to organisers.
Rakovski has a key place in Pope Francis’s May 5 to 7 visit to Bulgaria because the town has by far the largest Roman Catholic population in the country, with most residents professing that faith.
Father Dimitar Dimitrov told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that the Pope would arrive by air from Sofia at the Graf Ignatievo airfield and use the Popemobile to travel in Rakovski.
About 200 children from all over Bulgaria would take their first communion in the Sacred Heart church, with the Pope.
Special video screens will be set up to relay the service outside, because the church can accommodate no more than 800 people.
In the afternoon, at the parish church of St Archangel Michael, Pope Francis will have a meeting with the youth, the Roman Catholic community and other people from the town.
Father Dimitar said that a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Leticia – who is from the Philippines and who has been working in Rakovski for the past 15 years was actively preparing the children, teaching them prayers and biblical texts, in preparation for the arrival of the Pope. Also preparing the children is Father Roumen Stanev of the St Archangel Michael parish.
The St Archangel Michael church has been undergoing renovations, including to its interior and the bell tower. Father Roumen said that the funds had come from various organisations, but mainly from residents of Rakovski and people from the parish.
Local artists have been invited to compete to produce a painting to be presented to Pope Francis. The winner would be announced soon, Father Dimitar said.
The mayor of Rakovski, Pavel Gugzherov, told local media that given the high-profile visit and the large number of visitors expected, work on sprucing up the town ahead of May. Renovations of the town’s main square were completed recently.
The liturgy in Rakovski is one of two during the Pope’s visit to Bulgaria. The other will be in Sofia.
On May 5, Pope Francis will hold talks in Sofia with Patriarch Neofit of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Pope Francis is the second serving head of the Roman Catholic Church to visit Bulgaria, a country where the majority of the population declare their adherence to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The first Pope to visit was John Paul II, who in 2002 went to Sofia, Plovdiv and the Rila Monastery.