Pilgrimage to the Monastery of St. John of Rila

VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2002 (VIS) - After celebrating Mass in private this morning in the apostolic nunciature, the Pope went by helicopter to the Monastery of St. John of Rila, located 120 kilometers south of Sofia, Bulgaria.

The monastery of St. John of Rila (Ivan Rilski) is situated in a valley of mountainous terrain in Rila, whose heights reach 2,000 meters. In 931, Ivan founded a monastic community. After the Ottoman conquest in 1395, the monastery was sacked several times and the monks abandoned it temporarily. Toward the middle of the 15th century, the community was resurrected and asked for the reinstitution of the relics of the founder saint which are preserved today in this monastery.

This holy place where eight monks currently live is the spiritual heart of Bulgaria. From the beginning of 19th century, it has been the principal center of national culture and resistance against Ottoman occupation and contains the richest library in the country. The five-story tower, 25 meters high and constructed in 1335, is the oldest building in the monastery. The church, dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin, was constructed in 1835.

After venerating the icon of the Mother of God and the relics of St. John of Rila, the Pope was greeted by the abbot of the monastery, Bishop Joan.

John Paul II greeted the hegumen, or superior, Bishop Joan, who had attended the sessions of Second Council II with him as an observer, and recalled that during his visit to Bulgaria he had manifested the desire to go on a pilgrimage to the monastery at Rila to venerate the relics of the monk St. John.

«Dear Brothers and Sisters,» said John Paul II, «Eastern monasticism, together with that of the West, constitutes a great gift for the whole Church.» The Pope then referred to the times during his pontificate when he had emphasized «the precious contribution that you make to the ecclesial community through the example of your lives.»

«Monastic life, in virtue of the uninterrupted tradition of holiness on which it is based, preserves with love and fidelity certain elements of Christian life that are important also for modern men and women: monks and nuns are the Gospel memory for Christians and the world.»

«Christian life is above all 'apotaghe', the 'renunciation' of sin, of worldliness, of idols. ... In monasticism, this renunciation becomes radical: it is the renunciation of home, family, and profession, ... of earthly goods in the unending quest for those that are eternal, ... of selfish love. ... 'Spiritual combat' is another element of monastic life which needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today. It is a secret and interior art ... in which monks engage every day against the temptations.»

«The monastery,» he added, «is the place where the 'new commandment' is daily fulfilled, it is the house and school of communion. ... What a powerful Christian witness is given by a monastic community when it lives in authentic charity!»

John Paul II concluded his visit to the monastery of Rila by emphasizing the «Church's debt of gratitude to all the ascetics who have kept in mind the 'one thing necessary', man's ultimate destiny.»

The Pope went on to visit the Hall of Icons in the cloister of the monastery. Later he met with the prime minister, Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, son of King Boris III, whose tomb is found in the monastery. At midday, local time, the Holy Father returned by helicopter to Sofia. After having lunch at the nunciature, he is scheduled to participate in a meeting with the Grand Mufti and with representatives of the Muslim community and the evangelical churches.

Vatican Information Service
25. mai 2002

av Webmaster publisert 27.05.2002, sist endret 27.05.2002 - 13:46