Security measures for the May 6 visit by Pope Francis to the town of Rakovski will not be Draconian because he wants to be among the people, mayor Pavel Gudzherov said.
At a joint briefing on May 2 with regional police directorate chief Atanas Ilkov, Gudzherov denied media reports that security in the town would be so strict that mobile phone networks would be switched off.
“No such thing,” Gudzherov said. “Everyone who wants to see the Holy Father is welcome in Rakovski. There is a place for everyone. His Holiness wants to be among the people. This will be a joyous event.”
Rakovski, the Bulgarian town with the highest per capita population of Roman Catholics in the country, has been preparing for months for the visit by the Pope.
The Roman Catholic churches have been renovated, town squares have had a makeover and large billboards have been placed at the entrances to the town, depicting the Pope with a “welcome” sign in Bulgarian.
Local media reported that large numbers of police and gendarmerie were in the town, checking the routes that the Popemobile will follow.
On May 6, the road between Stryama and Rakovski will be closed to traffic to allow free passage of the Pope’s convoy.
The first stop of Pope Francis in Rakovski will be at the square in front of the municipality, after which he will go to the Sacred Heart of Jesus church, where a liturgy will be conducted at 11.15am.
Gudzherov said that everyone who wanted to see Pope Francis in the square should be there by 9.30am at the latest. People would be able to enter after undergoing checks at security checkpoints.
At 2.30pm, the Pope will go to the St Archangel Michael church in the Sekirovo neighbourhood, passing along Georgi Rakovski Boulevard, an ideal chance for anyone who wants to get a glimpse of him, according to the mayor.
“That is an ideal place. At Evropa Square in Sekirovo, there will be access, after undergoing a security check. At both churches, however, entry is by invitation only. What is happening in the churches will be visible on video screens we will place in various parts of the town,” Gudzherov said.
Many streets in the town will be closed throughout the day. From 9am onwards, moving around will only be possible on foot. There will be two “buffer” parking areas in the General Nikolaevo and Sekirovo areas, able to hold close to 5000 cars.
Entering and leaving Rakovski will be only via the Shishmantsi and Brezovo roads. Everywhere in the town, there will be marshals and signboards to inform people where to find parking, and which streets are closed.
The municipality has made available space at the stadium for tents and caravans.
Further details of security measures for Pope Francis’s visit to Bulgaria are to be announced at a briefing in Sofia on May 3 by the Interior Ministry.
Media reports on May 2 said that security for the Pope in Sofia would be very tight, with helicopters in the air in locations where he will be, and snipers on duty. Besides Bulgarian security services, the Pope’s personal security will be close by. Vatican security has been in touch with its Bulgarian counterparts for months.
In Sofia, security screening of people coming to the events open to the public will begin three hours before each scheduled event.
Authorities will bar people visibly intoxicated, those carrying dangerous objects as well as those categorised in a risk group. Reports said that Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security has a list of individuals who should not be allowed near the Pope. These are people suspected of being in contact with radical or paramilitary organisations, the reports said.
(Photo of a poster of Pope Francis outside the St Joseph Roman Catholic cathedral in Sofia: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)