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Priester-Märtyrer Kamen Vichev (1893-1952), Pavel Djidjov (1919-1952) und Yosafat Shishkov (1884-1952)



Pope John Paul II Says He Wishes to Pay Tribute to All Who Suffered for Their Faith During the Communist Regime

Plovdiv, May 26 (BTA) - The success of our earthly pilgrimage depends on whether we respond to God's love, the Pope said, serving mass in Plovdiv on Sunday. He added that the three priests beatified by him were fully aware of this truth. Together with a little more than 10.000 christians from Bulgaria, and groups from the neighbouring countries, Poland, Italy and even France the Pope celebrated the Holy Mass mainly in Bulgarian.

The Pope said that beatifying the three Bulgarian Catholic priests, he also wishes to pay tribute to all martyrs of the Eastern Orthodox faith during the communist regime. Their strong faith in Christ has brought together the two communities of the Christian Church in Bulgaria, the Holy Father said.

The Pope called on the Bulgarian Church to seriously consider the possibility of opening of a Catholic seminary in Bulgaria to train young priests.

At the beginning of the Mass the Pope greeted (Bulgarian Orthodox) Metropolitan ARSENIY of Plovdiv who attended the Holy Mass. He said his presence was a sign of hope that we may some day rejoice over full unification.

The Pope also addressed those professing the Islamic religion who also "worship, though in a different way, the only Almighty God".

The Pope also greeted the representatives of the state authorities, thanking them for their contribution and said that without this contribution his journey to Bulgaria would have been impossible.

Turning to the Mother of God icon placed at the altar, Pope John Paul II asked the Holy Virgin to watch over the Bulgarian people.

Press reports described as "cool" the meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Maksim. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church did not join the invitation to the Pope to visit. However, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church said it would welcome the Pope with all due respect. Surprisingly, Patriarch Maksim attended the official welcoming ceremony at St. Alexander Nevski central square and had a 45-minute eye-to-eye meeting with the guest. Later President Georgi Purvanov described this as a clear signal that the Holy Synod is ready for an active dialogue.

The Pope was welcomed cordially by the monks at the Rila monastery. The monastery's hegumen, Bishop John stressed in his address to the Pope that the split between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches has lasted ten centuries. "But the walls between them do not reach the skies and are temporary - men erected them and men will pull them down," said he.

The dialogue between the two churches is very important for Europe's future integration, said Cardinal Walter Casper, Chairman of the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians. In his words, the relations between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches are intensive and are being stepped up.

Bulgaria's chances for EU and NATO membership were also commented in the light of the Papal visit. NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Rafael Estrella was the first to make such connection. Upon his arrival in Sofia he said that the NATO-PA session in Sofia and Pope John Paul II's visit are positive initiatives connected with overcoming the 50-year period of confrontation during the Cold War.

For his part, Pope John Paul II called Bulgaria a bridge between the East and West and a spiritual crossroad, and wished that the efforts for social renovation find deserved reception and support from the European Community.