Bulgaria Trip Scheduled for May

Papal Visit Was Requested by Intellectuals

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passi announced that John Paul II will visit Bulgaria for the first time next May 23-25.

The Minister made this announcement following a meeting with Monsignor Renato Boccardo, who is in charge of protocol at the Vatican State Secretariat. The monsignor was in Bulgaria to prepare the papal visit.

Monsignor Boccardo confirmed that the Holy Father plans to be in Bulgaria on May 24, feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius, evangelizers of the Slavs and authors of their alphabet. Every year on that date the Pope receives a Bulgarian delegation in the Vatican.

The Vatican has thus responded positively to the invitation addressed to the Pontiff last January by 75 Bulgarian intellectuals.

During his visit, the Bishop of Rome will meet with representatives of the Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox and Muslim communities, Monsignor Boccardo disclosed.

According to Foreign Minister Passi, it is «an event that has long been awaited by the whole country.»

Four Bulgarian presidents have visited the Pope in the past, but the Orthodox Church opposed a papal visit to the country. Recently, however, Patriarch Maxim has adopted a more neutral attitude in this respect.

Three Bulgarians are suspected by Italian justice of having organized Mehmet Ali Agca´s attack on the Pope in St. Peter´s Square in 1981.

Serguei Antonov, one of the suspects, was arrested in 1982 in Rome and released four years later for «lack of evidence.»

During the Communist era, the Bulgarian state responded by saying that the attack was «a great manipulation» by the U.S. Secret Service to compromise Bulgaria, then the Soviet Union´s most faithful ally.

A Bulgarian investigation, carried out after the fall of Communism, found no evidence of Bulgarian involvement in the attack on John Paul II.

In their open letter, the 75 intellectuals said that Bulgaria´s name «continues to be unjustly associated with this attack» and «this injustice can be finally repaired by a visit of the Holy Father» to the country.

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