VATICAN CITY, MAY 23, 2005 ( Benedict XVI says that Orthodox and Catholics have a common duty "to build together a more free, peaceful and solidaristic humanity."

The Pope proposed this today when receiving in audience President Georgi Parvanov of Bulgaria, a country he described as "one of the bridges between West and East."

The Holy Father received his guest, greeting him cordially in Italian. After a 10-minute private meeting in the Apostolic Palace, the Pope delivered an address in French in which he recalled Sts. Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe, and the contribution they made to Bulgarian spirituality.

With the visit, the Bulgarian president, who was accompanied by his wife and entourage, was celebrating the Orthodox liturgical feast of the two saints from Salonika, Greece, evangelizers of the Slav peoples.

After asking the president to greet Patriarch Maxime of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on his behalf, Benedict XVI said that Orthodox and Catholics "have before us a common duty: We are called to build together a more free, peaceful and solidaristic humanity."

"In this perspective, I would like to express the fervent desire that your nation will be able to promote continually in Europe the cultural and spiritual values that constitute its identity," said the Pope.

Benedict XVI emphasized the good relations that Bulgaria has had with the Holy See since the collapse of communism. Pope John Paul II visited the country three years ago, and Bulgarian leaders participated in the mourning when he died. They also joined in the Mass inaugurating the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

Some estimates say 82% of Bulgaria's 7.5 million inhabitants are Orthodox; 12.2% are Muslim, 1.7% Catholic, 0.1% Jewish, while 3.4% is made up of other Christian confessions.