Vatican Spokesman Evaluates Papal Trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria

Meeting with Moscow Patriarch «Must» Take Place, Navarro-Valls Says

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PLOVDIV, Bulgaria, MAY 27, 2002 ( Just as John Paul II´s latest international trip was ending, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls offered a preliminary evaluation of the trip on Italian public television channel RAI 1.

Q: What is your opinion on this trip?

Navarro-Valls: It has surpassed expectations of the trip in all dimensions — on the one hand, the ecumenical dimension; on the other, the Pope´s emotional meeting with these small Catholic minorities, especially in Azerbaijan. And then, in his private meeting with the president of the republic, the Pope touched upon that important topic for Bulgarians. [John Paul II had said he never believed there was a «Bulgarian connection» behind the 1981 attempt on his life — Editor´s note.]

Q: Frankly, has the ecumenical path taken steps forward or backward?

Navarro-Valls: It has taken steps forward, and I would say very much forward. Naturally, this must be analyzed from the perspective of 1,000 years of misunderstandings on both sides. The meeting with Patriarch Maxim was wonderful. The metropolitan of Plovdiv decided in the last hour to attend the Mass of Sunday´s beatifications. They seem to be small gestures, but they are gestures of an enormous historical dimension.

Q: The Pope met with all the most eminent patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches, but he has yet to meet with the most influential one, the patriarch of Moscow.

Navarro-Valls: I think it is a meeting that is destined [to take place]. It must necessarily be held for many reasons, which it would take too long to analyze now. When? We don´t know, but from all sides, including Moscow´s intelligentsia, a sense of incomprehension arises: «Why hasn´t it happened yet?» All this is left for the consideration of the bishop of Moscow; hence, it will have to take place.

Q: There has been some journalistic fury over the Pope´s health. All were expecting the great collapse, and yet …?

Navarro-Valls: And yet we have seen that in certain formal, external — let´s say aesthetic — aspects, something has changed in the manner of the trips.

But without a doubt, the Pope´s decision to continue remains intact, as the topics of the pontificate remain intact. We will have to get used to seeing some formal changes: as, for example, the fact that the Pope walks less. The thematic thrust of this pontificate remains intact.

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