Monday, May 6, 2019

Bulgaria: Meeting with the Catholic Community

This afternoon in Bulgaria, at 3:35pm local time (8:35am EDT), the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic community inside the church of Saint Michael the Archangel in Rakovsky.

Upon his arrival, the Pope was welcomed by two children dressed in traditional attire who presented him with a gift of bread.  At the entrance to the church, the Pope was received by the Pastor and the Associate Pastor.  Then, they walked together toward a family who was waiting beside a bas-relief of Saint John XXIII; they offered the Pope some flowers which he placed in front of a reliquary of the Saint.

During the gathering, after a brief greeting which was offered by the Bishop of Sofia and Plovdiv, His Excellency, Gheorghi Ivanov Jovčev, and the witness of a Eucharistine Sister, the World Youth Day 2019 hymn was sung.  There followed another testimony offered by a priest, a dance performed by a few young people who belong to various lay movements and another testimony offered by a family.  Then, the Holy Father shared his speech.  At the conclusion of his discourse, after the final blessing, the Pope continued along the central nave while the choir sang a song.  Outside the church, there were some sick young people waiting, along with volunteers who released white helium-filled balkoons while the church bells rang.

The Holy Father then travelled by car to the Graf Ignatievo Air Base where, at 5:45pm local time (10:45am EDT), after having greeted 15 members of the Air Base staff, he boarded the State Flight A319 and returned to Sofia.

Having arrived in Sofia, the Holy Father travelled by car to Nezavisimost Square for a Meeting for Peace in the presence of representatives of various Religious Confessions who are present in Bulgaria.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
shared during the meeting with members
of the Catholic Community

Dear brothers and sisters,

Good afternoon! I thank you for the warm welcome, for the dances and for the testimonies. They tell me that the translation is done with screens. That's okay. Monsignor Iovcev asked me to help you - in this joy of meeting the People of God with their many faces and charisms - to help you see with eyes of faith and love. First of all I would like to thank you because you helped me to see better and to understand a little more the reason why this land was so loved and significant for Saint John XXIII, where the Lord was preparing what would be an important step in our ecclesial journey. Between you sprouted a strong friendship with our Orthodox brothers who inspired him on a road capable of generating the long-awaited and fragile fraternity between people and communities.

Seeing with the eyes of faith. I wish to recall the words of the good Pope, who knew how to keep his heart in tune with the Lord in such a way that he could say he did not agree with those around him who saw only evil and called those people prophets of doom. According to him it was necessary to trust in Providence, which accompanies us continually and, in the midst of adversity, is capable of realizing superior and unexpected designs (Opening Speech of the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962).

Men of God are those who have learned to see, trust, discover and to be guided by the power of the resurrection. They recognize, yes, that there are painful and particularly unjust situations or moments, but they do not remain idle, frightened or, worse, fuelling a climate of disbelief, malaise or annoyance, because this does nothing but harm the soul, weakening hope and preventing any possible solution. The men and women of God are those who have the courage to take the first step - this is important: take the first step - and seek creatively to stand in the forefront testifying that Love is not dead, but has overcome every obstacle . The men and women of God come into play because they have learned that, in Jesus, God himself has put himself on the line. He has put his own flesh at stake so that no one must feel alone or abandoned. And this is the beauty of our faith: God who gets involved by becoming one of us.

In this sense I would like to share with you an experience I had a few hours ago. This morning I had the joy of meeting, in the Vrazhedebna refugee camp, refugees from various countries of the world who have come to find a better life context than the one they left, and also, I met Caritas volunteers. (applause to the volunteers of Caritas, who stand up, all wearing red shirts). When I entered this place and saw the volunteers of Caritas, I asked who they were, because I thought they were firefighters! So red! There (at the Vrazhedebna Centre) they told me that the heart of the Centre - of this Refugee Centre - comes from the awareness that every person is a child of God, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination. To love someone there is no need to ask for a curriculum vitae; love precedes, always goes on, we anticipate. Why? Because love is free. In this Caritas Centre there are many Christians who have learned to see with the eyes of the Lord, who does not dwell on adjectives, but seeks and awaits each with the eyes of a Father. But you know what? We must be careful! We have fallen into the adjective culture: this person is this, this person is this, this person is this ...

And God does not want this. Each person is truly a person, an image of God. No adjectives! Let God put the adjectives; we must put love into every person. Thus, this also applies to chatter. How easily chatter comes between us! Ah this is that, this does this ... We always add adjectives to people. I'm not talking about you, because I know that there is no chatter here, but we can think of the places where there is talk. This is the adjective: to describe people. We need to move from the culture of the adjectives to the reality of the nouns. Seeing with the eyes of faith is the invitation not to spend your life pinning labels, classifying those who are worthy of love and those who are not, but trying to create the conditions so that every person can feel loved, especially those who feel forgotten by God because they are forgotten by their brothers. Brothers and sisters, he who loves does not waste time crying on himself, but he always sees something concrete that he can do. In this Centre you have learned to see problems, to recognize them, to face them; let yourself be questioned and try to discern with the eyes of the Lord. As Pope John said: I have never known a pessimist who has done anything good. Pessimists never do anything good. Pessimists ruin everything. When I think of the pessimist, a beautiful cake comes to mind: what does the pessimist do? Pour vinegar on the cake, ruin everything. Pessimists ruin everything. Instead, love opens the door, always! Pope John was right: I have never known a pessimist who has done anything good. The Lord is the first not to be pessimistic and He continually tries to open up ways of resurrection for all of us. The Lord is an incurable optimist! He is always trying to think well of us, to bring us ahead, to bet on us. How nice it is when our communities are sites of hope! The optimist is a man or woman who creates hope in the community.

But to acquire the gaze of God we need others, we need them to teach us to look and feel as Jesus looks and feels; so that our hearts can palpitate with their own feelings. This is why I liked it when Mitko and Miroslava, with their little angel Bilyana, told us that for them the parish has always been their second home, the place where they always find strength to move forward, in the prayer of their community and in the support of loved ones. Yours must be an optimistic parish, which helps to move forward.

In this way, the parish turns into a house in the midst of all other houses and is able to make the Lord present right there where every family, every person tries every day to earn their bread. There, at the intersection of the streets, is the Lord, who did not want to save us with a decree, but entered and wants to enter the most intimate of our families and to say to us, as he said to the disciples: Peace to you! The Lord's greeting is beautiful: Peace be with you! Where there is a storm, where there is darkness, where there is doubt, where there is anguish, the Lord says: Peace be with you! And he not only says this: he creates peace.

I am glad to know that you find this maxim good; I like to share it with spouses: Never go to bed angry, not even one night (and, as far as I can see, it is working with you). It is a maxim that can also be used by all Christians. I like to tell couples not to fight, but if they fight, there is no problem, because it is normal to get angry. It's normal. And sometimes fighting a little loudly - sometimes the dishes fly - but there is no problem: get angry as long as you make peace before the day ends. Never finish the day in war. To all of you spouses: never finish the day in war. And do you know why? Because the cold war of the next day is very dangerous. And, father, how can you make peace? Where can I learn the speeches to make peace?  Do this (he makes the gesture of a caress): a gesture and peace is made. Just a gesture of love. Do you understand? This is for couples. It is true that, as you have also said, you go through different tests; this is why it is necessary to be careful so that anger, resentment or bitterness never have a chance to take possession of the heart. And in this we must help each other, take care of each other so that the flame that the Spirit has kindled in our hearts does not go out.

You recognize, and you are grateful for the fact that your priests and sisters take care of you. They're good! A round of applause for them. But when I listened to you, I was struck by that priest who shared not how much he had been good during these years of ministry, but he spoke of the people God has placed next to him to help him become a good minister of God. And these people are you.

The People of God thanks their pastor and the pastor recognizes that he learns to be a believer - pay attention to this: learn to be a believer - with the help of his people, his family and in their midst. When a priest or a consecrated person, even a bishop like me, moves away from the People of God, our hearts cool down and lose that ability to believe as the People of God. This is why I like this statement: the People of God helps the consecrated - whether priests, bishops or nuns - to be believers. The People of God is a living community that sustains, accompanies, integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, each person learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others. Without his people, the priest loses his identity and the people can fragment without their pastors. The unity of the pastor who supports and fights for his people and the people who support and fight for their pastor. This is big! Everyone dedicates his life to others. No one can live only for himself, we live for others. And this was what Saint Paul said in one of his letters: No one lives for himself. Father, I know a person who lives for himself. And is that person happy? Is he capable of giving life to others? Can he smile? They are selfish people. It is the priestly people who are able to say with the priest: This is my body offered for you. This is the People of God united with the priest. Thus we learn to be a Church-family-community that welcomes, listens, accompanies, cares for others, revealing its true face, which is the face of a mother. The Church is a mother. Church-mother who lives and makes her children's problems her own, not offering ready-made answers. No. Mothers, when they have to respond to the reality of their children, say what comes to mind at that moment. Mothers do not have ready-made answers: they respond with the heart, with the mother's heart. Thus the Church, this Church which is made by all of us, people and priests together, bishops, consecrated, all together, we seek together ways of life, roads of reconciliation; we try to make the Kingdom of God present. Church-family-community that takes in hand the knots of life, which are often big balls of yarn, and before untangling them he makes them his own, welcomes them in his hands and loves them. So does a mother: when she sees a son or daughter who is knotted in so many difficulties, she does not condemn her child: she takes those difficulties, those knots in her hands, she makes them her own and resolves them. This is how our Mother Church is. This is how we should look at it. It is the mother who takes us as we are, with our difficulties, with our pure sins. She is a mother, always able to arrange things. Doesn't it seem good to have a mother like that? Never go away, never leave the Church! And if you go away, you will lose the memory of the motherhood of the Church; you will begin to think badly of your Mother: the Church, and the farther you go, the more that image of mother will become an image of stepmother. But the stepmother is inside your heart. The Church is a mother.

A family among families - this is the Church - open to bear witness, as our sister told us, to today's world the faith, hope and love for the Lord and for those whom he loves with predilection. A house with open doors. The Church is a house with open doors, because it is a mother. I was struck by something that a great priest had written. He was a poet and loved the Madonna so much. He was also a sinful priest, he knew he was a sinner, but he went to the Madonna and cried before the Madonna. Once he wrote a poem, asking the Madonna for forgiveness and making the intention not to ever leave the Church. He wrote thus: This evening, my lady, the promise is sincere. But, just in case, don't forget to leave the key on the outside. Mary and the Church never close the door from the inside! Always, if they close the door, the key is outside: you can open it. And this is our hope. The hope of reconciliation. Father, you say that the Church and the Madonna are a house with open doors, but if you knew, father, the bad things that I did in life: for me the doors of the Church, even the doors of the heart of the Madonna , they are closed"-"You are right, they are closed, but approached, look carefully and you will find the key on the outside. Do so, open the door and enter. You don't have to ring the bell. Open the door with that key there.  And this is true for life!

In this sense I have a job for you. You are children in the faith descended from the great witnesses who were able to witness with their lives to the love of the Lord in these lands. The brothers Cyril and Methodius, holy men with great dreams, were convinced that the most authentic way to talk to God was to do so in their own language. This gave them the audacity to decide to translate the Bible so that no one would be deprived of the Word that gives life.

Being a house with open doors, in the footsteps of Cyril and Methodius today also requires knowing how to be bold and creative in order to ask ourselves how we can translate the love God has for us in a concrete and understandable way to the young generations. We must be bold and brave. We know and experience the truth that young people, in the usual structures, often do not find answers to their anxieties, their needs, their problems and their wounds (Christus vivit, 202). And this asks us for a new imaginative effort in our pastoral actions in order to find ways to reach their hearts, learn about their expectations and encourage their dreams, as a community-family that supports, accompanies and invites us to look to the future with hope . A great temptation faced by the new generations is the lack of roots, roots that support them, and this leads them to uprooting and great loneliness. Our young people, when they feel called to express all the potential in their possession, many times remain halfway because of the frustrations or disappointments they experience, since they have no roots to lean on in order to be able to look forward (cf Christus vivit, 179-186). And this increases when they are forced to leave their land, their homeland, their family.

We are not afraid to accept new challenges, on the condition that we strive with every means to ensure that our people are not deprived of the light and consolation that they derive from friendship with Jesus. I would like to underline what I have said about young people, that many sometimes lose their roots. Today, in the world, there are two groups of people who suffer so much: the young and the elderly. We need to meet them. The elderly are the roots of our society, we cannot send them away from our community, they are the living memory of our faith. Young people need roots, memory. Let them communicate with each other, without fear. There is a beautiful prophecy from the prophet Joel: The old will dream and the young will prophesy (cf Joel 3:1). When young people meet with the elderly and the elderly with the young, the elderly begin to live again, they return to dreaming and the young take courage from the old, they go ahead and begin to do what is so important in their lives, that is to attend to the future. We need young people to attend to the future, but this can only be done if they also have the roots of the elderly. When I arrived here at the parish, there were so many old people in the streets, so many old men and old women. They smiled ... They have a treasure inside. And there were so many young people who also greeted me and smiled. Let them meet together! May the elderly give the young people this ability to prophesy, that is, to attend to the future. These are today's wagers. And we are not afraid. We accept new challenges, on the condition that we strive with every means at our disposition to ensure that our people are not deprived of the light and consolation that they derive from friendship with Jesus, from a community of faith that sustains them and from an always stimulating horizon and a renewing force who gives them meaning and life (cf Evangelii Gaudium, 49).  Let us not forget that the most beautiful pages of the life of the Church were written when, creatively, the People of God set out to try to translate the love of God in every moment of history, with the challenges they were encountering. The united people, the People of God, with their sensus fidei. It is nice to know that you can count on a great lived history, but it is even more beautiful to become aware that you have been given the task of writing what is to come. These pages have not yet been written. You have to write them. The future is in your hands, you must write the book of the future. Do not get tired of being a Church that continues to generate, in the midst of contradictions, pains and even so much poverty, but it is the Mother Church that continually creates children, generates the children that this land needs today at the beginning of the 21st century, keeping one ear to the Gospel and the other to the heart of your people. Thank you ... - I'm not done! I will torment you a little more. Thank you for this great meeting. And, thinking of Pope John, I would like the blessing I give you now to be a caress of the Lord for each of you. He had given that blessing with the hope that it would be a caress; that blessing he gave by the light of the moon.

Let us pray together, let us pray to Our Lady who the image of the Church.  Pray in your language.

Prayer of the Hail Mary in Bulgarian

Original text in Italian

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