By Linda Bordoni
During Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to the Balkan nations of Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Cardinal Pietro Parolin says the Pope will be highlighting “that which unites”.
Speaking to Vatican News on the eve of the Pope’s departure, Cardinal Parolin pointed to the logo and motto of the trip to Bulgaria, which is “Pacem in Terris” – Peace on Earth – the title of an encyclical by Pope St. John XXIII, the first visitor and Apostolic Delegate to the country.
“The Pope will be a bearer of peace, a witness to the Risen Christ,” the Cardinal explained, and since we are in Easter time, we remember the apparitions of the Risen Jesus to his disciples when his first greeting was “Peace be with you. Peace I leave you; my peace give you”.
Parolin added that the theme of peace, which was central to John XXIII’s pontificate, will be built upon by Pope Francis with those attitudes of which John XXIII was a witness: “the search for friendship, gentleness, amiability, encounter with the other,” and the capacity to highlight what unites more than what divides.
“These great features of the figure and the Pontificate of John XXIII had already emerged at the time when he was Papal Nuncio in Bulgaria; I believe that it is along these lines that the contribution of Pope Francis during this journey will be placed,” he said.
With an eye to the Pope’s schedule in Bulgaria that lists a moment of prayer before the Throne of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a meeting with representatives of different religious denominations, and a visit to Patriarch Neophyte – the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – the Cardinal noted that the visit shines the spotlight on some particularly significant figures of the present and past, such as those of the two Saints: the brothers Cyril and Methodius.
They were saints of the Church of the first millennium, the Cardinal said, a Church that was still undivided but where tensions were already being experienced and which would ultimately lead to fracture and division.
The witness they provide in their search for unity, in their desire to evangelize new peoples using new methods and new languages, Parolin said, adds meaning to the Pope’s encounter with the people of Bulgaria that is to take place in a dimension of ecumenical fraternity, “recognizing each other as brothers in the one Lord”, and at the same time striving to overcome the divisions and the tensions that still exist.
It speaks, he said, of the desire to pursue the Christian mission to bring the Gospel to the world, certain that the effect of this evangelization will be all the more profound and incisive the more united we are, proclaiming together the Word of salvation that the Lord has entrusted to us.
Migrants and refugees
Pope Francis is also scheduled to visit a refugee camp during his journey. Cardinal Parolin recalled the four verbs chosen by the Pope in calling for solidarity and action regarding migrants and refugees: “Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate”.
He pointed out that Pope Francis carries forward this teaching with concrete gestures and never tires of bearing witness to this important issue during almost all of his journeys and in many other situations and occasions as well.
“Here, too, he wants to underline this aspect, taking into account that protecting also means defending and protecting the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters who find themselves in a situation of vulnerability and often of marginalization,” he said.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
In North Macedonia, the Pope will visit the city of Skopje, birthplace of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, focusing attention on the poor.
Together with John XXIII and Saints Cyril and Methodius, Cardinal Parolin said Mother Teresa is clearly a dominant figure of this journey.
“When I was in Macedonia a few years ago, I was able to see how much affection and devotion there is towards Mother Teresa. Naturally, this attention towards the poor, the marginalized, towards those who find themselves in need, translates into something very concrete,” he said.
Mother Teresa, he recalled, compared herself to “just a drop in the ocean, noting however, the ocean would be less because of that missing drop”.
Cardinal Parolin said the Pope is bound to make that teaching his own and insist on asking the faithful to put charity into action.
Challenges and opportunities
“I believe”, Cardinal Parolin said, “there are no challenges, but opportunities in this journey”, especially taking into account the geographical and historical reality of Bulgaria, which, he said, is a crossroads of meetings and peoples, and the multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in North Macedonia.
Once again, he concluded, it is an occasion to launch the theme of the culture of encounter and of the mutual richness provided by diversity.