Pope and Bulgarians give witness to peace

Friday, May 17, 2019 - Updated: 3:09 pm

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Prayers for peace are important, but they must lead those praying to roll up their sleeves, reach out their hands and open their hearts, Pope Francis said at an interreligious meeting in Sofia.

The gathering — featuring children representing the Catholics, Bulgarian Orthodox, members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Jewish community and the Muslim community — was held under rainy skies at Nezavisimost, or Independence Square.

Participants were not praying together, organizers insisted, but were praying for peace each in their own way.

The event May 6, the pope’s last public appointment in Bulgaria on his three-day trip, was a tribute to St. John XXIII, who was apostolic delegate to the country from 1925 to 1935 and, as pope, wrote the encyclical, “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”).

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church had announced before the pope’s trip that it would not send a bishop to the gathering and it did not; rather it was represented by an Orthodox layman who works for the government department overseeing religious affairs.

Armenian Bishop Datev Hagopian and Sofia’s grand mufti, Mustafa Hadzhi, joined Pope Francis on the stage along with a government official, a Protestant minister and a woman representing the Jewish community.

In an earlier event, the pope celebrated a late afternoon Mass May 5 in Sofia’s Battenberg Square, wearing over his chasuble a gold-embroidered, Byzantine-style stole given to him that morning by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

The pope’s homily focused on the day’s Gospel reading about the disciples’ miraculous catch of fish after the risen Jesus told them to try again even though they had caught nothing all night.

After the resurrection, the pope noted, “Peter goes back to his former life” as a fisherman and the other disciples go with him.

“The weight of suffering, disappointment and of betrayal had become like a stone blocking the hearts of the disciples,” he said. “They were still burdened with pain and guilt, and the good news of the Resurrection had not taken root in their hearts.”

When things don’t go the way people plan and hope, the pope said, it is natural for them to wish things could go back to the way they were and to just give up on hoping for something new and powerful.

However, the pope said, even when Peter seems about to give up, Jesus comes to him, calls him again and reconfirms his mission.

“The Lord does not wait for perfect situations or frames of mind; he creates them,” Pope Francis told the estimated 7,000 people gathered for the Mass. Jesus “does not expect to encounter people without problems, disappointments, sins or limitations,” but he encourages and loves and calls people to start over again.

“God calls and God surprises because God loves,” he said. “Love is his language.”

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