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POPE IN BULGARIA SPECIAL: ‘Christ Is Alive & Wants You to Be Alive,’ Knowing He Never Abandons You

During 1st Full Day in Bulgaria, Francis Recalls Impact of ‘Bulgarian Pope’ (ZENIT’s Sr Vatican Correspondent Is on the Ground)

Christ is alive, and he wants you to be alive..

He is in you, He is with you and He never abandons you…

During his Regina Coeli, today, May 5, 2019, during his three-day Apostolic Visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia, the Holy Father underscored this while addressing faithful in the square in front of the famous Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Today, according to forecasts, was supposed to be raining and stormy, but so far—perhaps divine intervention–not a raindrop has fallen… Also, this morning, through jumbotrons in the city, faithful could follow the papal events.

The Vatican anthem could be heard wherever one found themselves, including the public squares where strollers, children on bicycles, and elderly passed by.

ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, is on the ground following the trip, and having had the chance to explore the Cathedral, where the Pope spent some time in silent prayer this morning, was able to share an inside look of its beauty. Even those visiting, up until the end of the day yesterday, couldn’t help themselves from looking around in awe, including this father and his baby from Japan.

Pope Francis is making this journey to the majority Orthodox nation, where Catholic faithful, are a small flock of less than one percent of the population, to encourage this community. He also has said he feels he is “accompanied” by Saint John XXIII, who had been apostolic delegate in the nation, and having been there a decade, is affectionately called “the Bulgarian Pope.”

ZENIT also went to the Apostolic Nunciature where Pope Francis will be sleeping where there is the plaque outside recalling Pope Roncalli’s time and dedication to the country. Moreover, ZENIT saw the delivery of the chair for the Pope’s Mass today (a country not used to moments like this, other than for the visit of John Paul II in 2002, and did not have a chair appropriate for a Pontiff, and hence had to go out of the way to obtain it…)

Father Dimitar Dimitrov, parish priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, had told this to ZENIT.

“Pope Francis,” he stressed, “truly is following in St. John XXII’s footsteps here, step by step, in each way. That means so much to our people, who are very excited to see him.”

Outside the Apostolic Nunciature, religious sisters were running, almost literally, getting things ready for the Pope’s arrival, and many were preparing and cleaning up the area. Police and security had been very little initially, but grew significantly by the Pope’s arrival this morning.

Pope Francis is also bringing a strong message of faith and peace.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ is risen! He is truly risen!” Francis said, during the noon address. “With these words, Christians – Orthodox and Catholic – here in Bulgaria have from ancient times greeted one another in the Easter season.”

Noting these words express great joy for the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil and death, he noted they are “an affirmation and a testimony of the very heart of our faith: Christ is alive!”

“He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. Everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life.”

Francis stressed that he wanted to begin with a specific reminder to all those before him: “Christ is alive, and he wants you to be alive!”

“He is in you, He is with you and He never abandons you,” Francis said, adding, “However far you may wander, He is always there, the Risen One. He calls you, and He waits for you to return to Him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, He will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.”

The Pope recalled that in the history of the Church, also here in Bulgaria, many pastors were outstanding in the holiness of their lives, among whom was Francis’ predecessor, “whom you call “the Bulgarian saint”, Pope John XXIII, a holy pastor whose memory is particularly honored in this land, where he lived from 1925 to 1934.” Francis observed how he learned to esteem the traditions of the Eastern Church and built friendly relationships with the other religious confessions.

John XXIII’s diplomatic and pastoral experience in Bulgaria, the Holy Father said, “left so deep a mark on his pastor’s heart that he was led to promote in the Church the prospect of ecumenical dialogue, which received a notable impulse in the Second Vatican Council, which he himself wished to convene.” In a certain sense, he said, “we can thank this land for the sage and inspired intuition of ‘good Pope John.'”

While an Orthodox country, the Holy Father observed, Bulgaria is “a crossroads” where various religious expressions encounter one another and engage in dialogue.

“The very welcome presence in this meeting of representatives of these different communities is a sign of the desire of all to pursue the increasingly necessary journey towards “the culture of dialogue,” “mutual cooperation” and “reciprocal understanding.”

The Pope pointed out that they were near the ancient church of Saint Sofia, and next to the Patriarchal Church of Saint Aleksander Nevsky, where he just then prayed in memory of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the evangelizers of the Slavic peoples.

Stating his “esteem” and “affection” for this venerable Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, Francis expressed his  joy in greeting and embracing his “brother,” His Holiness Patriarch Neofit and the Metropolitans of the Holy Synod. Observers in the pool affirm this encounter was relatively relaxed, without tension. Pope Francis and the Patriarch kissed three times, and Pope Francis kissed the Orthodox leader’s medallion.

Despite Delicate Ecumenical Context, Bishop Proykov Tells ZENIT We Should Be Encouraged

The fact that Pope Francis had visited Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church decided not to partake in any common prayer, many interpreted in a negative light.

In an exclusive interview with ZENIT, President of the Bulgarian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Christo Proykov, gave his interpretation of this: “It has been like this for 1,000 years.  The Orthodox church does not pray together with the Catholic Church.”

However, he also reflected, “it is also true, that in recent years we have witnessed important meetings between the Pope and Orthodox hierarchs: I am thinking of Kirill of Moscow, of Cuba, of Bartholomew of Constantinople, with whom the Pope meets very often.”

“This is an important encouragement for the future,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded, inviting those present to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Queen of heaven and earth, asking her to intercede before the Risen Lord, that He may grant this beloved land the necessary impulse always to be a land of encounter.”

“A land in which, transcending all cultural religious and ethnic differences, you can continue to acknowledge and esteem each other as children of the one heavenly Father. We make our plea in the words of the ancient prayer, Regina Coeli. ”

Pope Francis specifically prayed before the icon of Our Lady of Nessebar, whose name means “Gate of Heaven”, “so dear to my predecessor Saint John XXIII, who began to venerate her here in Bulgaria, and carried her with him to the day of his death.”

“Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia!” he said.

Mass: God can make our lives ‘works of art’

During his first Mass in Bulgaria, Pope Francis told some 12,000 faithful how today’s Gospel helps us immerse ourselves in the joy that the Lord asks us to spread, noting it does so “by reminding us of three amazing things that are part of our lives as disciples: God callsGod surprisesGod loves.”

Speaking on God’s love, Francis recalled how St. Peter recognized his weakness, realizing that he cannot make progress on his own, and eventually takes his stand on the Lord and on the strength of his love, to the very end.

“The Lord,” the Holy Father said, “loves us: this is the source of our strength and we are asked to reaffirm it each day.”

“Being a Christian is a summons to realize that God’s love is greater than all our shortcomings and sins. One of our great disappointments and difficulties today comes not from knowing that God is love, but that our way of proclaiming and bearing witness to him is such that, for many people, this is not his name. God is love that loves, that bestows itself, that calls and surprises.”

Here, Francis said, we see the miracle of God, “who makes of our lives works of art, if only we let ourselves to be led by his love.”

Tomorrow, the Holy Father will travel to Rakovski where the Pope will give the first Holy Communion to 243 little ones, one of whom will be a Sirian refugee in Bulgaria.

Below is the full Vatican-provided text of the Regina Coeli:

***

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

With these words, Christians – Orthodox and Catholic – here in Bulgaria have from ancient times greeted one another in the Easter season. These words express great joy for the triumph of Jesus Christ over evil and death. They are an affirmation and a testimony of the very heart of our faith: Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. Everything He touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to each of you are these: Christ is alive, and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, He is with you and He never abandons you. However far you may wander, He is always there, the Risen One. He calls you, and He waits for you to return to Him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, He will always be there to restore your strength and your hope (cf. Christus Vivit, 1-2).

This faith in Christ, risen from the dead, has been proclaimed for two thousand years in every part of the world, thanks to the generous missionary effort of so many believers, called to give themselves completely and selflessly to the spread of the Gospel. In the history of the Church, also here in Bulgaria, there have been many pastors outstanding for the holiness of their lives. Among them, I readily recall my predecessor, whom you call “the Bulgarian saint”, Pope John XXIII, a holy pastor whose memory is particularly honoured in this land, where he lived from 1925 to 1934. Here he learned to esteem the traditions of the Eastern Church and built friendly relationships with the other religious confessions. His diplomatic and pastoral experience in Bulgaria left so deep a mark on his pastor’s heart that he was led to promote in the Church the prospect of ecumenical dialogue, which received a notable impulse in the Second Vatican Council, which he himself wished to convene. In a certain sense, we can thank this land for the sage and inspired intuition of “good Pope John”.

In pursuing this ecumenical journey, I will shortly have the joy of greeting the representatives of various religious confessions of Bulgaria, which, while an Orthodox country, is a crossroads where various religious expressions encounter one another and engage in dialogue. The very welcome presence in this meeting of representatives of these different communities is a sign of the desire of all to pursue the increasingly necessary journey towards “the culture of dialogue as a path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard” (Document on Human Fraternity, Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019).

We find ourselves near the ancient church of Saint Sofia, and next to the Patriarchal Church of Saint Aleksander Nevsky, where just now I prayed in memory of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the evangelizers of the Slavic peoples. As evidence of my esteem and affection for this venerable Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, I have had the joy of greeting and embracing my brother, His Holiness Patriarch Neofit and the Metropolitans of the Holy Synod.

Let us now turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, asking her to intercede before the Risen Lord, that he may grant this beloved land the necessary impulse always to be a land of encounter. A land in which, transcending all cultural religious and ethnic differences, you can continue to acknowledge and esteem each other as children of the one heavenly Father. We make our plea in the words of the ancient prayer, Regina Caeli. We make that prayer here, in Sofia, before the icon of Our Lady of Nessebar, whose name means “Gate of Heaven”, so dear to my predecessor Saint John XXIII, who began to venerate her here in Bulgaria, and carried her with him to the day of his death.

Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia!

[Vatican-provided text]

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: President of Bulgarian Bishops, Bishop Proykov of Sofia, on Pope’s Visit to Bulgaria (ZENIT Is on the Ground)

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in four languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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