VATICAN CITY, NOV. 1, 2001 ( John Paul II will visit Bulgaria next May, the country´s Foreign Minister announced today.

Solomon Pasi told the press that he had received a confirmation of the visit from Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the apostolic nuncio in Sofia, Associated Press reported. An exact date has not been chosen.

Previously, the nuncio said such a visit would be an "expression of the pontiff´s respect for Christian Orthodox Bulgaria." He said the Holy Father also planned meetings with Muslim religious leaders.

Pasi expressed hope that the visit will help "erase from Bulgaria´s image the blemish of ... (alleged) involvement in the attempt on the Pope´s life."

The country´s leaders hope a papal visit will help dispel lingering suspicions that Bulgarian secret services were involved in the 1981 assassination attempt against John Paul II by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, AP said.

Three Bulgarians suspected of involvement in the shooting were later acquitted by an Italian court for lack of evidence.

Agca, pardoned by Italy after nearly 20 years in prison for the attack on the Holy Father, is now serving a 10-year prison term in Turkey for the 1979 murder of a newspaper editor there and another seven years for robbery the same year.

The Pope recently completed a visit to Kazakhstan and Armenia.