VATICAN CITY, MAY 29, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II dedicated his address at today´s general audience, held in St. Peter´s Square, to an evaluation of his May 22-26 trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria. Here is a translation of the address which was given in Italian.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. I am happy to reflect with you today on my apostolic trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, which has left a profound echo in my spirit. Above all, I thank the Lord, who gave me the grace to make the trip. My cordial thanks then go to all who made it possible: to the heads of the two states and to the respective governments, the civil and military authorities, and to all those who collaborated in its preparation and execution. My special thanks go, in particular, to the pastors of the Catholic Church in the two countries, and I extend heartfelt thanks to those of the Orthodox Churches, as well as to the leaders of the Muslim and Jewish communities.
The great religious traditions are an integral part of the rich historical and cultural patrimony of the Azeri people. For this reason, it was eloquent to meet in Baku, the capital of the country, with the representatives of politics, culture, and, in particular, with those of the religions.
The Catholic community of Azerbaijan is, moreover, one of the least numerous that I have visited. That “little flock” is heir of a very ancient spiritual tradition, shared peacefully with Orthodox brothers in the midst of a predominantly Muslim population.
2. Because of this, recalling, ideally, the meeting in Assisi, I renewed from that land, true door between the East and West, my appeal for peace, emphasizing that religions must be absolutely opposed to all forms of violence.
I clearly perceived, especially during the Holy Mass at Baku, that the heart of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church also beats in Azerbaijan.
3. My visit to Sofia coincided with the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, evangelizers of the Slav peoples. From the beginnings of evangelization, a solid bridge has united the See of Peter with the Bulgarian people. And this bond was consolidated in the last century, thanks to the precious service rendered by the then Apostolic Delegate Angelo Roncalli, Blessed John XXIII.
The purpose of my visit, the first of a Bishop of Rome, was also to reinforce the bonds of communion with the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, led by Patriarch Maxim, whom I had the joy to meet after the visit to the patriarchal cathedral.
4. In Sofia I met afterward with representatives of culture, science and art in memory of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who knew how to combine faith and culture admirably, contributing in a decisive way to the formation of the spiritual foundations of Europe.
The Monastery of St. John of Rila, the heart of the Bulgarian nation and pearl of the world´s cultural patrimony, is a signal example of this synthesis between spirituality, art and history. By going as a pilgrim to that holy place, I wished to render solemn homage to Eastern monasticism, which enlightens the whole Church with its centuries-old witness.
5. The climax of my brief but intense sojourn in Bulgaria was the eucharistic celebration in the central square of Plovdiv, during which I proclaimed Blessed, Kamen Vitchev, Pavel Djidjov and Josaphat Chichkov, Augustinian priests of the Assumption, shot in the prison of Sofia in 1952, together with Bishop Eugene Bossilkov, beatified already four years ago.
These courageous witnesses of the faith, together with the other martyrs of the last century, prepare a new springtime for the Church in Bulgaria. In this perspective is placed the last meeting, the one with young people, to whom I proposed again the always current message of Christ: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). Christ calls all to the heroism of holiness. So this apostolic pilgrimage also ended in the sign of holiness.
Thanks to the constant intercession of Mary, Queen of the Saints and of Martyrs, may the Church in Azerbaijan and in Bulgaria, as in Europe and the whole world, spread the good perfume of the holiness of Christ in the variety of their traditions and in the unity of only one faith and only one love!
[Translation by ZENIT]
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[At the end of the audience, the Pope gave this summary in English.]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased today to speak briefly about my Pastoral Visit to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, and to thank the Presidents and people of both countries for their warm hospitality. My special gratitude goes to the Bishops of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and to the leaders of the Muslim and Jewish communities.
The Catholic community in Azerbaijan is among the smallest that I have ever visited. It is a “small flock” but with a rich and ancient Christian tradition. Bulgaria too has a long tradition of Christian faith going back to the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius. Despite the harsh persecutions of the century just ended, many courageous Christians kept the faith alive and serve today as shining examples to all, especially to the younger generation. May all of Christ´s disciples continue to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (see Matthew 5:13-14), through their witness of faith and love.
To the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from England and the United States of America, I offer special greetings. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[Original text: English; distributed by Vatican Press Office]