At Bulgarian Monastery, Pope Repeats Ecumenical Theme

SOFIA, May 25, 02 ( - Ecumenical outreach continued to dominate the activities of Pope John Paul II as he continued his visit to Bulgaria on Saturday with a trip to an ancient Orthodox monastery.

The monastery of St. John at Rila, about 60 miles south of Sofia, is considered the spiritual heart of Bulgaria. Founded in 931, the monastery fell to the Ottoman invaders in 1395, but was recovered in the 15th century and served as a center of cultural and religious resistance against the Ottomans.

In his remarks to the monks living there, Pope John Paul spoke of the «inestimable heritage» of monasteries such as this one. He extolled the virtues of monastic life, which he described as «the Gospel memory for Christians and the world.» And he added-- in yet another reference to the need for Christian unity-- that a monastic community is «the house and school of communion.»

In another bow to the Eastern churches, he also mentioned that some ancient Russian monasteries have the same status, as does the monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece. That observation was clearly an effort to extend an olive branch: Some of the monks of Mt. Athos objected to the Pope's visit to Greece, while the Pope's ardent desire to visit Russia has, to date, been thwarted by the opposition of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy.

(The steady pressure of hostility from Moscow has been visible even during the Pope's trip to Bulgaria. When he first arrived in Sofia, the Pope's program called for a visit to the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maxime, where the two prelates were to exchange the Kiss of Peace. At the last minute, however, as the Pontiff approached, the Orthodox prelate extended his hand: a less formal greeting. A Bulgarian theologian commented that the Bulgarian prelate had probably been «under pressure» from Moscow to avoid a more dramatic gesture.)

Arriving at the monastery by helicopter, the Pope was greeted by the monastic superior, Bishop Joan-- who was an observer at the Second Vatican Council. Later he was given a tour of the monastery, spending some time in its famed House of Icons, which were brilliantly illuminated for the occasion by hundreds of candles.

Before leaving the monastery, the Pope met with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha. The prime minister-- who was the king of Bulgaria before the Communist takeover-- is the son of King Boris III, who is buried on the Rila monastery grounds.

Catholic World News Feature
25. mai 2002

av Webmaster publisert 27.05.2002, sist endret 27.05.2002 - 13:50