Ahead of his May 5 to 7 visit to Bulgaria, Pope Francis has addressed a message to the country’s people in a video, the government information service said.
The head of the Roman Catholic church said in the video that his journey to Bulgaria has the motto Pacem in terris – peace on earth – and said that for him and those accompanying him, the visit would be a pilgrimage with the theme of faith, unity and peace.
Pacem in terris was the title of an encyclical written in 1963 by Pope John XXIII, who earlier in his career spent almost 10 years in Sofia as apostolic legate Angelo Roncalli.
Bulgaria had been a land of witnesses of faith since the time when Saints Cyril and Methodius spread the gospel there, the Pope said, referring to the ninth century missionaries and scholars venerated by both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
The work of Cyril and Methodius had been very beneficial and had borne much fruit in the difficult moments of the past century, Pope Francis said. “This was repeated many times by Saint John Paul II, who worked so much so that Europe could rediscover the liberating power of Christ and be able to breathe again with both lungs.”
Pope Francis said that, following in the footsteps of John Paul II, “I will have the honour of meeting His Grace the Patriarch and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Together we will demonstrate the desire to follow the Lord Jesus on the road of brotherly communion among all Christians”.
Pope John Paul II, on his visit to Bulgaria in May 2002, met the Patriarch of the time, Maxim.
As to Pope Francis’s visit, the programme includes talks with Patriarch Neofit and members of the Holy Synod at the synod’s Sofia headquarters, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s governing body said earlier that there would be no joint services or prayers with the Pope.
In his video message, Pope Francis said that his pilgrimage would honour John XXIII, who in his years in Sofia, established with the Bulgarian people “bonds of respect and love that continue to this day”.
“He was a man of faith, of fellowship, of peace. That is why I chose the title of his historic encyclical ‘Pacem in terris’ as the motto of the visit.
“I would like to ask you to accompany me with your prayer. Thank you. May God grant peace and prosperity to Bulgaria.”
A culminating moment in the programme for the visit by Pope Francis to Bulgaria will be on the evening of May 6, when he will be joined in Sofia by representatives of various religious groups in Bulgaria for a prayer for peace.