Pope Says He Never Believed in "Bulgarian Connection"

Meets President of Republic

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SOFIA, Bulgaria, MAY 24, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II told this republic´s president that he never believed in the so-called Bulgarian connection between the country´s secret service and the 1981 assassination attempt in St. Peter´s Square.

Following the Pope´s meeting today with President Georgi Parvanov in the Presidential Palace, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said: «I would like to add that the Pope has told the president that he never believed in the so-called Bulgarian connection, which blamed a people whom he fondly likes and admires.»

Turk Mehmet Ali Agca shot the Pope on May 13, 1981.

The statement follows the Holy Father´s words Thursday, when he said on arrival in Sofia: «I say to all that I have never ceased to love the Bulgarian people, lifting them up always in my prayer to the Throne of the Most High: May my presence among you today be a clear sign of my sentiments of esteem and affection for this noble nation and its children.»

Bulgarians, who have been burdened with the weight of the allegation since 1981, were pleased with the Pope´s words. The theory of the «Bulgarian connection» arose in September 1981 when Agca told Italian investigators that he was recruited by Sofia´s secret service, with the KGB´s consent.

Italian justice detained Bulgarians Sergei Antonov, former head of «Balkan Air» Bulgarian Airlines in Italy and two officials of the Bulgarian Embassy in Rome: Teodor Ayvazoz and Jelio Vasilev.

The Pontiff´s statements were confirmed by the Bulgarian presidency, which also specified that Bulgaria and the Holy See are very concerned about the grave situation in the Middle East.

Recently, Jelio Jelev, Bulgaria´s first democratic president, recounted that in 1995, when he was received by the Pope in the Vatican, he asked him if he believed in the «Bulgarian connection.» John Paul II replied that guilt is always personal, and a whole nation cannot be held culpable for the wrongdoing of individuals, Jelev said.

After some 100 hearings, the trial ended with the acquittal of the suspects, because of Agca´s constant contradictions. Later, Agca retracted what he said, and affirmed that the Bulgarian connection was his own invention. But the Turk relaunched his accusations against Bulgaria in 1997.

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