The visit by Pope Francis to Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia is of significance to the region, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on the eve of the visit, underlining that along with President Roumen Radev, he and the head of state would do everything possible for the Pope’s visit to be a good advertisement for Bulgaria.
Borissov said that Pope Francis’s Balkan tour coincides with Bulgaria’s attempts to contribute to stability in the region.
The Pope is due to arrive in Sofia on May 5. He will be in Rakovski, the town in Bulgaria with proprtionately the largest population of Roman Catholics, on May 6, returning to Sofia in the evening for a Prayer for Peace with other faith groups. On May 7, he leaves Sofia for Skopje, where he will meet political leaders and the Roman Catholic community.
Borissov, who will hold talks with the Pope at Sofia Airport immediately after the arrival of the head of the Roman Catholic church on Sunday morning, told reporters on May 4: “I think what is more important is not what I will say to him, his presence in Bulgaria in important, and what he will say in his address to the world is important”.
Details of the gifts that the Bulgarian Prime Minister will give to the Pope were revealed on May 4. They include an icon, Bulgarian yoghurt (it has been reported that the Pope enjoyed Bulgarian yoghurt during his childhood in Argentina) and an omophorion. An omophorion, in the practice of the Eastern Orthodox Christian church, is a vestment worn by a bishop around his neck and shoulders, and is a symbol of his episcopal authority. The one that Borissov will present to the Pope depicts Saints Peter and Paul.
Ahead of the Pope’s visit, Borissov paid a surprise visit to Rakovski, accompanied by Interior Minister Mladen Marinov, to check on preparations for the Pope’s visit to the town, which is about 160km from Sofia and about 30km from Plovdiv.
Borissov paid tribute to the work that had been done to give the town, its squares and churches, a makeover ahead of the visit by the Pontiff. The security services and the mayor had done a lot of work, he said.
In a reference to Bulgaria’s communist past, Borissov noted that in those times, Roman Catholics in Bulgaria had been interned, tortured and persecuted.
He added that it was “not accidental” that this was the second visit by a Pope to Bulgaria (John Paul II visited in May 2002, becoming the first reigning Pontiff to visit Bulgaria).
“The Pope’s visit shows that the path that we have travelled with North Macedonia, with the signing of the good-neighbourliness treaty, the name (agreement) is correct. This is a sign of a holy man, a beloved Pope,” Borissov said. “So the Lord is with us. After all, we all pray to one Lord.”
Borissov said that there would be “no news agency, no newspaper that does not report where the Pope is. And I think it is worth the investment”.
The full programme for the visit by Pope Francis to Bulgaria from May 5 to 7 may be seen here.
(Archive photo: Bulgarian PM Borissov being received in audience by Pope Francis in May 2018)