Beginning his visit to Bulgaria on May 5, Pope Francis held talks with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and President Roumen Radev, and in a public address, underlined the quest for peace as the key theme of his journey.
“I see my visit as an exceptional opportunity,” Pope Francis said in an address in Atanas Burov Square to foreign diplomats, political, civil society and religious leaders.
He extended greetings to all faith groups in Bulgaria – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, other Christian denominations, Muslims and Jews.
“Our communication must be with respect for dignity,” the Pope said. “We must disagree with all kinds of violence, with every attempt to use religion for purposes other than purely religious.”
Earlier, after their talks at Sofia Airport on the arrival of the Pope, Prime Minister Borissov said that Pope Francis had referred to the Bulgarian government’s building of bridges and motorways, saying that motorways and bridges represented connectivity and inclusiveness.
“He congratulated me on what we have done during our (EU) Presidency for the Western Balkans,” Borissov said. “It is extremely symbolic and not by accident that after three days in our country he will go to Macedonia”.
The Pope and Radev held talks at the Presidency building before emerging to deliver addresses in Atanas Burov Square.
Radev said that the motto of the Pope’s trip is Peace on Earth, and from Sofia, this call would echo all over the world.
Bulgaria’s people knew the value of peace because the country’s history was full of wars and suffering, Radev said.
“Peace only lasts when tolerance among different religions triumphs,” Radev said.
Bulgarian society does not tolerate racism and xenophobia, he said, noting that in central Sofia, in close proximity to each other were an Orthodox Christian church, Roman Catholic cathedral, mosque and a synagogue.
“Your Holiness, today with the warmest feelings, an open and good-hearted people welcome you. The people of one of the oldest Christian states, who accepted Christ’s faith 12 centuries ago,” Radev said.