Bulgarian President Says Pope Will Foster Unity Among Churches

Parvanov Insists Country Had No Part in 1981 Attack on John Paul II

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SOFIA, Bulgaria, MAY 23, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Bulgaria´s president says that John Paul II´s visit to his country will help to foster dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Georgi Parvanov, 45, was elected president of Bulgaria last November against all predictions. A historian, one-time Communist and former leader of the Socialist Party, he describes himself as a pragmatic reformer. He also says he is faithful to the Orthodox Church.

Q: Mr. President, with what feelings do you welcome John Paul II?

Parvanov: It is a visit we have long awaited. Bulgaria has wished to welcome the Pope since 1990, and has invited him several times to visit our land. We very much appreciate the figure of John Paul II, his commitment in favor of peace, and his role in the process of Europe´s unification. During this visit, he will be surrounded by the respect and esteem not only of the different religious representatives but of the whole Bulgarian people.

Q: John Paul II is arriving in a country of Christian tradition. What is the meaning of this spiritual legacy for today´s Bulgaria?

Parvanov: I consider it significant that the Pope is arriving during the national feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, proclaimed patrons of Europe by John Paul II himself. I wish to remind you that Bulgaria has not only given hospitality to these two great monks but it has known how to transform their work into a concrete political reality, source of dissemination of Christianity in the Slavic world. It is a legacy that even today fills us with great pride.
Q: Bulgaria is a nation of Orthodox majority. May I ask you if you so consider yourself?

Parvanov: Yes, I was baptized in the Orthodox faith.

Q: As a child?

Parvanov: Certainly before 1989 [laughs], when it was no easy thing.

Q: What effect might the Pope´s visit have on the Orthodox Church, marked by internal tensions and divisions?

Parvanov: I am certain that it will favor the dialogue between the two Churches and also reconciliation within Bulgaria´s Orthodox Church. There are divisions, but I´m not among those who tend to exaggerate these phenomena.

Rather, I notice that in recent times there is a greater impulse to unity. State institutions are prepared to cooperate in this sense, naturally in full respect of the Church´s autonomy and of the pluralism of the different religious confessions.

Q: John Paul II will go to Plovdiv to beatify martyrs killed during the years of totalitarianism. Do you fear that this gesture will reopen the debate against former Communists?

Parvanov: I regard it as an imperative gesture on the part of the Catholic Church vis-à-vis its martyrs. On several occasions I have personally rendered honor to the victims of the totalitarian regime. We have no need to search out the past and rekindle old divisions.

Q: On becoming president, you said that you did not wish to resurrect the ghosts of the past. In your opinion, has Bulgaria come to terms with the years prior to 1989?

Parvanov: In large part, yes. That page of history has been read in a serious, modern and rational way. However, if one is to go forward, one cannot be always looking in the rear mirror. Whoever treats the past as a fetish is not a good politician. As for the rest, our history suggests many points on which we can be united rather than divided.

Q: In the 1980s, Bulgaria´s name was associated with the attack on Pope Wojtyla in St. Peter´s Square on May 13, 1981. Will you be touching on this subject in your meeting with the Pope?

Parvanov: I will present to His Holiness Bulgaria´s position and assessment. I wish to say to your readers and to public opinion, and I say it with the greatest responsibility, as a person who has researched the archives very carefully, that in no way was Bulgaria implicated either in the preparation or execution of that criminal act.

On the contrary, from the archives one gets the impression that the Communist secret services themselves were surprised. This is one of the reasons why I can affirm that the Bulgarian state had nothing to do with the attack on the Pope. And I think His Holiness will appreciate what the head of state tells him.

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