Patriarch Calls Bulgarians to Be Open for Papal Visit

SOFIA, Bulgaria, SEPT. 11, 2001 ( Bulgarians should receive John Paul II «without prejudice» if, as proposed, he visits the country next year, said Bartholomew I, the Orthodox ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople.

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«How the Pope is welcomed will depend on the spiritual strength of members of the local Church, but a respectful conduct without prejudice is certainly the best,» Bartholomew told Bulgaria´s most popular daily, Troud, late last week.

Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Menini said last month that the Pope might visit Bulgaria next May, but the Vatican has not officially confirmed the trip.

Relations between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church have been particularly strained since the fall of the Communist regime in Eastern European countries, because Orthodoxy sees the rebirth of the Catholic Church as a threat. However, John Paul II took the initiative to soothe old wounds during his visit to Greece last May, when he asked for forgiveness for the sins of Catholics against Orthodox Christians.

The Pope also made an effort to overcome differences when he visited Ukraine and Syria earlier this year.

«If the faith of Bulgaria´s Orthodox community is strong, then we have nothing to be afraid of, whether it is the Pope or anyone else who is not Orthodox,» said Patriarch Bartholomew. «Reconciliation with the Catholic Church does not mean a decline in Orthodox dogmas.»

In January, 75 Bulgarian intellectuals, including Foreign Minister Solomon Passi, sent an open letter to John Paul II, inviting him to visit Bulgaria this year even though the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which does not recognize pontifical authority, was opposed to the visit.

The Church has finally agreed to welcome the Pope in his role as head of the Vatican state, Agence France-Presse reported.

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