VATICAN CITY, MAY 29, 2002 ( John Paul II said he was very pleased with his trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria because it enabled him to promote dialogue with believers, particularly the Orthodox.

The Holy Father dedicated today´s general-audience address to evaluate his 96th international apostolic pilgrimage, which took place May 22-26.

The Pope began by recalling the 25 hours he spent in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the 24th predominantly Muslim country he has visited as Pope. One objective of the trip was to promote peace in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, he said.

"Recalling 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," the Pope explained to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter´s Square.

With just under 200 Catholics, Azerbaijan has one of the smallest number of baptized Catholics in the world.

The Holy Father said he was pleased to see during his visit that "that ´little flock´ is heir of a very ancient spiritual tradition, shared peacefully with Orthodox brothers in the midst of a predominantly Muslim population."

John Paul II said that, in the Mass he celebrated in Baku, "I clearly perceived" that "the heart of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church also beats in Azerbaijan."

The Pontiff continued by recalling the three days he spent in Bulgaria "to reinforce the bonds of communion with the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, led by Patriarch Maxim," who welcomed the Holy Father.

John Paul II said that his meeting with representatives of culture, science and art, which took place in Sofia, became a homage to 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," said the Pope, who visited the monastery May 25 "to render solemn homage to Eastern monasticism, which enlightens the whole Church with its centuries-old witness."

The climax of the Bulgaria visit was the beatification in Plovdiv of three religious -- Kamen Vitchev, Pavel Djidjov and Josaphat Chichkov -- who were shot in the prison of Sofia in 1952. They were killed along with Bishop Eugene Bossilkov, who was beatified 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," the Pope said.

The Holy Father ended the audience by recalling his last meeting with Bulgarian youth, to whom he proposed "the always current message of Christ: ´You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world,´" theme of the upcoming World Youth Day in Toronto.

"Christ calls all to the heroism of holiness. So this apostolic pilgrimage also ended in the sign of holiness," John Paul II concluded.