Start Bulgaria Pope asks for admission of refugees

Pope asks for admission of refugees

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Pope Francis addressed sensitive issues at the beginning of his visit to the Balkans in Bulgaria: He called for the country, which uses wire fences to protect against illegal refugees, to receive refugees.

During his visit to the poorest country in the European Union, Pope Francis called for refugees from war zones and areas of extreme poverty to be welcomed. He asked that Bulgaria recognize the motivations of migrants seeking a better life „or simply safe haven,“ said Francis.

„Do not close your eyes, heart and hands

At a reception with Head of State Rumen Radew at the Presidential Palace, Francis said, „Allow me to suggest that you do not close your eyes, heart and hands to those who knock on your doors, as is your tradition.“ The Pope recalled that more than two million Bulgarians, as emigrants in other states, were seeking better opportunities for life. Migrants also wanted to find „new livelihoods or just a safe haven,“ he stressed.

„Your country has always proved to be a bridge between East and West,“ said Francis. Bulgaria was able to foster encounters between different „cultures, ethnicities, populations and religions“ who had lived together here for centuries in peace. The visit to Bulgaria by Francis is under the motto „Peace on Earth“.

Bulgaria secluded

The concern of the Pope is in contrast to the official policy in Sofia: Bulgaria has taken a tough stance against migrants and refugees, the border with Turkey was sealed off with a barbed wire fence. The number of refugees applying for asylum in Bulgaria increased from 20,000 in 2015 to 2,500 last year, according to official sources.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov repeatedly praises the fact that thanks to the EU refugee pact with Turkey, the „migration pressure at the Bulgarian-Turkish border is zero.“ His coalition government also includes three nationalist parties whose supporters are opposed to refugees.

Distance to the conservative Bulgarian church

Francis also met the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Neofit. Neofit gave the pope a cool reception. While Francis described the division of Christians as a „painful injury“ and called for reconciliation, Neofit spoke of mutual respect. He strives to preserve a „church that is immaculate, without spots or wrinkles.“

The relationship of the Vatican to the conservative Bulgarian church, which does not participate in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, is distanced. Neofit affirmed this by calling his church the guardian of true Christianity: „We are firmly convinced that there can be no compromise on all matters of faith.“

There was no common worship and no prayers with the Pope. Francis prayed alone in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. On Monday Francis wants to visit the small Catholic community. Less than one percent of the approximately seven million Bulgarians are Catholics.