Pope Francis arrived in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia on the morning of May 5 and was welcomed by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov at the airport before proceeding on a full programme of talks with political and church leaders, and religious services.
On his first visit to Bulgaria, and the second by a serving Pope, the Pontiff is accompanied by a high-level delegation.
Members of the delegation include Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches who is in charge of the Roman Catholic Church in Bulgaria and has visited the country more than once; Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Substitute of the Secretariat of State (the rank is equivalent to deputy prime minister); Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States (the rank is equivalent to minister of foreign affairs); Msgr. Guido Marini, Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations; and Msgr. Mauricio Rueda, Coordinator of Papal Visits.
Borissov and the Pope held talks and exchanged gifts. The Pope is also scheduled to hold talks with head of state President Roumen Radev and with Patriarch Neofit and members of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
At 1pm on May 5, Pope Francis will utter the Sunday prayer Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) at St. Alexander Nevsky Square. This is the first major event with the Pope open to public attendance (local people and visitors to the capital city).
Every week Regina Coeli is broadcast live and watched by more than 100 million believers worldwide. This time it will be broadcast from Bulgaria’s capital.
While Pope Francis pronounces the prayer an icon of the Virgin of Mesemvria, an icon that Pope John XXIII adored, will be put up on the stage. As Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII spent almost 10 years (from 1924 to 1935) in Bulgaria where he was an Apostolic Legate.
Pope Francis will pray facing the icon of the Virgin of Mesemvria and will read his reflection on the Sunday Gospel as well as on his visit to Sofia. He will deliver a short address to the world on topical issues.
The second major event in Bulgaria with Pope Francis open to public attendance is the Sunday liturgy at Knyaz Alexander I Square. This will be largest event on the programme of his visit; the event will be attended by more than 7600 people. The liturgy is a traditional Roman Catholic Mass and, in addition to Roman Catholics from all Bulgaria, representatives of the public authorities and of other denominations are invited.
On May 6, Pope Francis will visit the Vrazhdebna Refugee Centre.
Afterwards, the Pope will travel to the town of Rakovski, where he will serve the Divine Mass and 250 children will take the First Communion from the Pope in the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (Sacritissimum Cor Jesu).
About 2000 people will assemble in the square in front of the church.
The Pope will meet some Roman Catholic community members in the Church of the Archangel Michael in Rakovski.
The visit of Pope Francis to Bulgaria will close with an event for peace at Nezavissimost Square in Sofia. The Pope will deliver his message of peace to the world together with representatives of different religions. Six children who will represent these religions will hold burning torches that symbolize peace. An olive tree and roses, a symbol of Bulgaria, will be “planted” on the stage.