Source: Peter Anderson, Seattle, WA USA
Pope Francis has just completed his first day in Sofia, Bulgaria. In reviewing the reports in major Bulgarian newspapers and the comments by top government officials, it appears that the visit so far has been very well received. The Pope’s humble approach seems to win hearts. There has been considerable coverage of the visit in the Western media both before the Pope’s arrival in Sofia and afterwards. One very important aspect of the visit is the Pope’s contact with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. With respect to that aspect, several items today caught my attention.
After the Pope met with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov at the airport, the Pope went to the formal welcoming ceremony involving President Rumen Radev in front of the presidential palace. A video of this entire ceremony can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P34jNYZ1j1o . As you recall, the Holy Synod on April 3 issued a decision that the Patriarch and the Holy Synod were willing to hold a meeting with Pope Francis at the Synodal Palace and that a visit by the Pope to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was possible. It then stated that participation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in any other aspect of the program was “impossible.” http://www.bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=286989 However, something must have changed. In the video of the ceremony, you can clearly see Metropolitan Anthony of Western and Central Europe in the reception line at the official welcoming ceremony. At 7:40 in the video, Pope Francis exchanges the triple kiss with the Metropolitan and kisses his panagia. Over 1.5 million Bulgarians live in Western Europe, and the Catholic Church has provided churches for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in many major cities. http://bnr.bg/en/post/100848098/patriarch-neophyte-meets-with-cardinal-leonardo-sandri
The Pope was greeted at the Synodal Palace by Metropolitan Anthony. The Pope then met with Patriarch Neofit and members of the Holy Synod. Actually, it was only with eight members of the 14-member Synod, but those present appeared to be the most influential bishops. Tsar Simeon II (Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) was also present at the meeting. It appears to have been a fraternal and warm meeting. The English translation of the full text of the Pope’s address to the Holy Synod is at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2019/may/documents/papa-francesco_20190505_bulgaria-patriarca.html. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has posted on its website the full text of the address by Patriarch Neofit. http://www.bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=289558 The website also includes photos and two videos (not of the entire meeting): http://www.bg-patriarshia.bg/news.php?id=289557 The Vatican has posted some photos by its photographer. They include Pope Francis and Patriarch Neofit exchanging the triple kiss and a wonderful photo of Pope Francis kissing the panagia of a smiling Patriarch Neofit. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2019/5/5/patriarca-bulgaria.html
It should be noted that Patriarch Neofit, when he was Metropolitan of Rousse, had contact with two prior popes. When Pope John Paul II visited Bulgaria in 2002, Neofit was one of three bishops who showed him the interior of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Metropolitan Neofit also represented the Bulgarian Orthodox Church at the funeral of Pope John Paul II. On May 22, 2009, Metropolitan Neofit accompanied Bulgarian’s president Georgi Parvanov in an audience with Pope Benedict.
Like Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis visited the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. A video of the entire visit to the Cathedral and the subsequent Regina Coeli service in the square in front of the Cathedral can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csAyB4nznjU&t=2333s . In the Cathedral, Pope Francis was accompanied by Metropolitan Anthony. During the visit, the Pope sat alone in prayer for almost five minutes on a chair in front of the north altar dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius. Interestingly, the chair was placed on a circular rug, typically used by Orthodox bishops during a liturgical service. The English translation of the address by Pope Francis at the subsequent Regina Coeli service is found at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2019/documents/papa-francesco_regina-coeli-bulgaria_20190505.html . It included the following remark: “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.”
Today’s final event was the Sunday Mass for Catholics. A video of the entire Mass can be viewed at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2019/5/5/santamessa-bulgaria.html A nice article about the Mass was written by an Orthodox author in the major Bulgarian newspaper Standart. https://www.standartnews.com/papa-frantsisk-v-blgariya/stotitsi-vzekha-prichastie-na-ploshchad-batenberg-391327.html Far more people appeared for the Mass than expected.
On May 4, the Vatican announced the convening of a major meeting between the Vatican and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to be held in Rome, July 5-6. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-05/pope-francis-ukraine-meeting-rome-press-office.html The announcement states:
In the delicate and complex situation in which Ukraine finds itself, the Holy Father Francis has decided to invite to Rome, July 5 to 6, 2019, the Major Archbishop, the members of the permanent Synod and the Metropolitans of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. The meeting will also be attended by the Superiors of the competent Dicasteries of the Roman Curia responsible for the country.
With this meeting, the Holy Father wishes to give a sign of his closeness to the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church that carries out pastoral service both at home and in various places in the world. This meeting will also offer a further opportunity to deepen the analysis of the life and needs of Ukraine, with the aim of identifying the ways in which the Catholic Church, and in particular the Greek-Catholic Church, can dedicate itself ever more effectively to preaching the Gospel, contributing to the support of those who suffer and promoting peace, in agreement, as far as possible, with the Catholic Church of the Latin rite and with other Churches and Christian communities.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was in Poland last week for a short visit. On May 2, he participated with Greece’s Parliament President Nikos Voutsis in the 3-kilometer annual “March of the Living” from the Auschwitz to the Birkenau death camps. This year’s march especially remembered the Jewish community of Greece, most of whom died in the Holocaust. https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Antisemitism/Thousands-remember-march-against-hate-at-Auschwitz-588540 On May 3, the Ecumenical Patriarch, together with Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, met in Warsaw with Metropolitan Sawa, primate of the Orthodox Church of Poland. According to the communique of the Polish Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch “emphasized the very good, friendly relations between the two hierarchs.” https://www.orthodox.pl/wizyta-jego-swiatobliwosci-patriarchy-bartlomieja-w-warszawie/ Although not mentioned in the communique, it is extremely likely that Ukraine was one of the subjects discussed by the hierarchs.
In a very important development, Archbishop Demetrios, who has headed the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Archdiocese of America for 20 years, submitted his resignation on May 4. The official announcement can be read at https://www.goarch.org/-/announcement-regarding-the-meeting-of-the-ecumenical-patriarch-with-archbishop-demetrios-geron-of-america. The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will meet on May 9 and will most likely elect a successor. They may also elect a new Archbishop of Australia to fill the vacancy caused by the recent death of Archbishop Stylianos. An interesting article which speculates on possible successors to these important positions can be read at https://www.romfea.news/ecumenical-patriarch-turns-the-page-on-america-australia-and-great-britain/.
From April 29 to May 3, a very large delegation of Catholic clergy from the diocese of Rome came as pilgrims to Moscow. The delegation was headed by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome Angelo De Donatis and included six other bishops and 75 priests. Aside from the visit to the Catholic community in Moscow, much of the visit was to the Orthodox who were observing Bright Week. The theme of the pilgrimage was: “Strengthening priestly fraternity. Knowledge and contact with Russian Orthodox spirituality.” On May 3, at the end of Divine Liturgy at the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, the delegation met with Patriarch Kirill. The text of the Patriarch’s address to the delegation can be read at https://mospat.ru/ru/2019/05/03/news173771/ In his address, he referred to the development in recent years of a “positive dynamic” in relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. He also thanked the Italian bishops for providing churches for Russian Orthodox divine services in Italy. Among the many places visited by the delegation were the Novodevichy (including the grave of Vladimir Soloviev), Danilov, and Sretensky Monasteries. They also visited the village of Semkhoz, the place where Father Aleksandr Men was assassinated in 1990. http://www.diocesidiroma.it/i-sacerdoti-della-diocesi-di-roma-in-pellegrinaggio-in-russia/ In a telephone interview, one of the members of the delegation stated that the monks of the Sretensky Monastery gave the delegation “truly an extraordinary welcome.” http://www.diocesidiroma.it/prosegue-il-pellegrinaggio-in-russia-i-racconti-dei-partecipanti/