Vatican City, 13 February 2014 (VIS) – This morning Pope Francis received in audience a group of bishops from the Episcopal Conference of Bulgaria on their “ad limina” visit, during which he handed them the text of an address in which he praised the vitality of the Catholic faith in the country, as demonstrated by a series of initiatives and activities in recent years. These include the Jubilee Year of 2010 convoked by the Apostolic Exarchate for Catholics of Byzantine-Slavic rite to celebrate the 150th anniversary of union with the Apostolic See of Rome; the scientific-commemorative convention on the work of Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, apostolic visitor and delegate in Bulgaria during the years 1925 – 1934; the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Passionist Blessed Evgenij Bossilkov and, during the recent Year of Faith, the National Meeting of Catholics of Bulgaria, the National Day for Young People and a study conference on Vatican Council II.
These initiatives confirm that the Catholic communities belonging both to the Latin Church and the Greek-Catholic Church, while a minority in Bulgaria, bear witness “both to natural moral values, and to Christ's Gospel, in a society marked by the many spiritual voids left behind by the former atheist regime and the uncritical acceptance of cultural models in which the suggestions of a certain practical materialism prevail”.
In the text, the Pope encourages the bishops to follow this path with courage and to inspire “that missionary transformation that the Church is called upon to bring about in the entire world”. He writes, “We are all missionary disciples, sent by the Lord to evangelise with joy and spirit, also recognising the valuable treasure of popular piety. This renewed missionary effort also has a social dimension, which takes as a point of reference the social doctrine of the Church and whose priorities are the social inclusion of the poor and commitment to the common good and social peace. It is therefore important for civil institutions to recognise the role of the Holy See as a spiritual and moral authority within the international community and to positively acknowledge the presence of the Catholic Church in conjunction with the Bulgarian nation and the contribution she offers in the service of the common good and the progress of the country”.
Pope Francis mentions the courageous witness to Christ and the Church on the part of Bulgarian faithful during dramatic periods in history and the path they have undertaken in the last two decades since regaining their freedom, and he encourages them to trust in the providential action of the Lord. He also urges the prelates to prioritise the formation of priests and the young, and since Catholics in Bulgaria live in close contact with the communities of the Orthodox Church, to continue in their efforts “to promote an increasingly intense and brotherly dialogue” with this Church, in order to “open the hearts and minds of all to give rise to an ever more concrete hope to arrive at the united celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice”.
Finally, referring to the upcoming canonisation on 27 April of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II, to be attended by delegations from various Bulgarian dioceses and exarchates, the Holy Father states: “It is an eloquent sign of the effect the witness of the first Slavic Pope has had on the soul and the life of the Bulgarian Catholic community … and also a sign of the living memory left of Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli during the years in which he worked in Bulgaria as apostolic delegate .. and his affection for the Bulgarian people, which in the midst of the vicissitudes of history has kept alive the flame of faith in Christ”.