VATICAN CITY, MAY 24, 2004 ( John Paul II continued to encourage the enlargement of the European Union with countries such as Macedonia and Bulgaria, when he met with representatives of those two nations.

On the Orthodox feast day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the Pope today received in audience the president of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as the president of the Bulgarian Parliament.

Given the two former Communist countries' petition for entry into the European Union, the Holy Father expressed to their representatives the "hope that your desires will receive just consideration."

In the address, delivered in English to Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski, the Pope noted that "your country has wisely reaffirmed its commitment to follow the path of peace and reconciliation."

"This is a credit to all your citizens and an encouragement to continue along the same route," he said.

"Dialogue and the search for harmony will allow you to dedicate every human and spiritual resource to the material and moral progress of your people, in a spirit of fruitful cooperation with neighboring countries," the Holy Father added.

To Oghnjan Gerdjikov, president of the Bulgarian Parliament, the Pope said in French that "in recent years, your country has rediscovered its place in the international scene and continues on the path of freedom and democracy thus seeking to consolidate harmony within the nation."

"At present it is committed to a patient effort to join itself in a stable manner to the institutions of the European Union," John Paul II said.

"In this connection," he added, "I hope that Bulgaria will be able to realize its legitimate aspirations, making -- thanks to the cultural and spiritual riches that stem from its centuries-old traditions -- its own contribution to the construction" of Europe.