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"Ad limina Apostolorum": Bulgarian Episcopal Conference

You are strengthened for the future by the experience of a dramatic past

  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 results.

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 new momentum.

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 means available.

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

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