Itinerary Outlined for Trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria

May 22-26 Journey Aims at Dialogue with Orthodoxy and Islam

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II´s trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria next month aims to promote dialogue with Islam and Orthodoxy, the official program for the visit reveals.

The Holy Father is scheduled to arrive at the airport of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic of Muslim majority and only 120 Catholics. His plane will touch down at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, according to the program published today by the Vatican Press Office.

The Pope will first visit the monument to the victims of independence, and meet with the country´s president, Heydar Aliyev. Later, he will meet with Azerbaijan´s religious leaders and representatives of the world of politics, culture and art.

The next morning the Pope will celebrate Mass in Baku´s Sports Palace, and will dine with the Salesian community, entrusted with the “sui iuris” mission of the Catholic Church in the country since 1998.

In the afternoon, the Bishop of Rome will meet with the head of the Caucasus Muslims, as well as with the Orthodox Bishop of Baku and the president of the Jewish community.

At 4:30 p.m., the Pope will bid Azerbaijan farewell and leave for Sofia from Baku airport. He will arrive in the Bulgarian capital´s international airport at 6 p.m.

The welcome ceremony will be held in St. Alexander Nevski Square in Sofia. The next day, Friday, May 24, John Paul II will visit Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov in the morning in the Presidential Palace.

After that visit, the Holy Father will go to the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevski in Sofia to celebrate the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, evangelizers of the Slavs.

The Pope will lay a floral wreath at the monument of the two brothers, co-patrons of Europe. The monument is located in the Square of the Cathedral, across from the National Library. John Paul II will then be received by Patriarch Maxim and the Sacred Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Sofia´s Patriarchal Palace.

After dining in the apostolic nunciature with Bulgaria´s Catholic bishops, the Pontiff will meet representatives of the Jewish community.

At 6:15 p.m. of the same day, the Bishop of Rome will meet with representatives of the Bulgarian world of culture, science and art.

On Saturday morning, John Paul II will go to the Monastery of St. John of Rila, where he will have a private meeting with Prime Minister Simeon of Saxe-Coburg, former king of Bulgaria.

The Pope will return to Sofia for dinner, after which he will meet with the Grand Mufti and representatives of the Bulgarian Muslim community, as well as with representatives of the evangelical churches.

John Paul II will dedicate the rest of the afternoon and evening to visit the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral of Latin rite in Sofia and the Catholic Cathedral of Byzantine-Slavic rite dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

On Sunday, May 26, the Pope will travel to Plovdiv to celebrate the beatification of the martyrs of Communism in the city´s main square.

After dining with Bulgaria´s Catholic bishops, the Holy Father will meet with young people in the cathedral. He will leave Bulgaria from Plovdiv´s airport.

Statistics published by the Vatican say Azerbaijan, a country of 7.5 million inhabitants, has just one parish, served by two Salesian priests and a religious.

Bulgaria, a country of almost 8 million, has about 80,000 Catholics. They are served in 54 parishes by 51 priests and 86 women religious, both of the Latin and Byzantine rites, the Vatican said.

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