"Ad limina Apostolorum": Bulgarian Episcopal Conference
You are strengthened for the future by the experience of a
On Monday, 1 June,1992 the Holy Father welcomed to the Vatican
for the first time in almost 50 years the Bishops of Bulgaria as they came
together on their ad limina visit. In his address the Pope recalled the
sufferings of the past and encouraged them in their hopes and plans for the
future. This is the Pope's talk, which he gave in French.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. Great is my joy in welcoming you and greeting you "in osculo pacis"
at the See and tomb of St Peter, near the tomb of St Paul, the Apostle of the
nations, and the places where so many of the martyrs of the first centuries gave
their life. It is with emotion that I listened to the words of Bishop Stratiev,
President of the Episcopal Conference of Bulgaria; I thank him for his witness.
For 48 years you, along with the priests and faithful of the Catholic Church
in Bulgaria, have known great suffering. This is the first time that you are
coming as an Episcopal Conference to the house of Peter's Successor to manifest
your fidelity and communion.
Because of your attachment to the Catholic Church, you courageously bore
harsh persecution during recent decades. The first period of shackles and
isolation actually began in 1944 when the atheistic regime came into power. You
have witnessed an attempt progressively to destroy the Church and the faith: the
Church's schools, charitable institutions and monasteries and the homes of
religious were confiscated; in 1948 these latter were forbidden to conduct any
activity, and the foreign religious were forced to leave the country. This was
an immense loss for the spiritual life and the works of charity.
2. However, in 1952 a genuine Calvary began when many lay people and the
majority of the priests were imprisoned. With emotion and gratitude I would like
to mention here the Pastors, martyrs for the faith, who were condemned to death
and executed on the night of 11-12 November 1952: Bishop Eugenio Bossilkov of
Nicopolis, and three Assumptionist priests, Kamène Vitchev, provincial and
superior of the seminary, Pavel Djidjov, the seminary financial officer, and
Josaphat Chichkov, curate of the Catholic Church in Varna. Bishop Ivan Romanov
of Plovdiv, condemned to 12 years' incarceration, died in prison.
I feel it is my duty to render homage today to the memory of these confessors
of the faith and to unite to their memory that of the many priests, religious
and laity who endured torture and suffering in prisons or concentration camps.
Truly, they totally lived out the words of the Apostle to the nations: "I served
the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me.... Yet
I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the
ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of
God's grace" (Acts 20:19, 24).
In addressing you, my thoughts of admiration and gratitude turn to the
countless believers who kept the faith during their very long trial, and who
showed, sometimes at the price of their life, their fidelity to Christ, his
Church, and the Apostolic See.
3. The important events which have affected Central and Eastern Europe in
recent years have opened up new paths for the Church in your country. In a
delicate, difficult period of change in society, unexpected opportunities for
the apostolate are now offered to the community of believers.
A new phase of the Church's life is beginning while, made strong by the
experience of a dramatic past, you are preparing to rebuild the structures of
your Dioceses. We can hope that your contacts with the government Authorities
will allow you to reach equitable solutions for the questions concerning the
Catholic Church's presence in society and especially the subject of the goods
which have been appropriated.
You find yourselves faced with an immense, demanding mission. You must set up
the material structures necessary for an active, well-organized apostolate, such
as will contribute to building the living temple which is the community of
believers; this can be done particularly by drafting a joint pastoral programme
so that you may speak in unison to the faithful and society. Here I especially
applaud the efforts you are making to ensure and develop the catechesis of young
people and adults, and I encourage you in this work which will not fail to yield
Unity among you, enlivened by your listening to the word of God and
participating in the one Eucharist, "the sacrament of love, sign of unity, bond
of charity" (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 47), will support you
in facing the problems which will arise and in giving your pastoral activity a
The Holy Spirit is still performing the wonders of Pentecost. New fruits of
justice and holiness will mature in your ecclesial communities.
May your concern for the flock which has been entrusted to you and your
efforts to extend and affirm the first fruits of the kingdom of God always be
inspired by the commandment which the Lord gave his disciples at the Last
Supper: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love
for one another" (Jn 13:35).
In the light of the commandment of love, dear brothers in the Episcopate, be
courageous apostles of the truth and builders of a fraternal community,
continuing to listen to him who consecrated you (cf. Is 61:1), in order to bear
witness with mercy to God's goodness to you.
Moreover, present conditions allow you to pursue ecumenical dialogue with
your brothers and sisters of other Christian traditions. It is our duty to
respond to Christ's prayer on the night before he died: "May they be brought to
perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me" (Jn 17:23).
4. With constant concern, be fathers to your priests, your first and valuable
coworkers in the Lord's vineyard. May your responsibility for the future
ministers be one of your priority concerns. Do not forget that every vocation
must be cultivated with devotion, even at the price of sacrifice, without
neglecting any aspect of human, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual formation.
Religious institutes are a gift from Providence to your Dioceses: it is your
task to discern their charisms and support their Gospel witness with all the
Without the contribution of the faithful and the support of the Christian
family, the Church could not reach her full vitality. That is why I invite you
to take the Holy Family of Nazareth as the model for your missionary activity.
May your pastoral programme have as the centre of its concern all that promotes
unity and love within the family: respect for and defence of life, rejecting
practices such as divorce and abortion which cause its break-up and
destruction, the education of children as the first task of parents, and the
development of the spiritual life.
I hope that you may receive the spiritual and material support you need for
your pastoral initiatives through the solidarity of the particular Churches of
the continent, which was so apparent during the recent Special Assembly for
Europe of the Synod of Bishops.
5. Your task is a missionary challenge: to prepare the Church of the Third
Millennium, taking up anew the initiative of evangelization with redoubled
efforts. The Spirit of the Redeemer, who guided you until now, will not forsake
you in this new phase of your history. Your ad limina visit joyously
emphasizes your union with the Bishop of Rome and your membership in the
Episcopal College: may that be a support for you!
I would like to ask you to convey my affectionate encouragement to all the
servants of the Gospel in your Dioceses - the priests, religious and the laity
who have responsibilities for or assure many of the tasks within the community -
and to all the faithful.
May the brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who have been greatly venerated
by the Bulgarian nation for centuries, obtain from God for you a new flourishing
of the Gospel in the land where they sowed it!
I entrust the plans, hopes and difficulties of the present moment to the most
holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. I entrust to her your homeland: may
Bulgaria experience the springtime which it desires and genuine moral and social
progress under the patronage of the heavenly Theotókos!
In this perspective I invoke the Lord's blessing upon you, the priests,
religious and faithful of the Bulgarian nation, which is so dear to me.
Teachings of the
Magisterium on Abortion