SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNS): Pope John Paul II appealed for a ‘spirit of tolerance’ between religions and greater unity among Christians during an historic visit to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.
The Pope’s journey from May 23-26 marked the first papal trip ever to the two countries and underscored his determination to engage non-Catholics in dialogue.
In the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, a Muslim country with just 120 Catholics, the Pope on May 22 pleaded for religious tolerance around the globe and an end to violence in the name of God.
He told religious and cultural leaders in the capital, Baku, that true peace requires ‘rejection of fundamentalism and every form of imperialism’. Christians, Muslims and Jews should together ‘proclaim to the world: Enough of wars in the name of God’, he said.
From the moment the Pope arrived, his physical problems were evident. Instead of walking down a set of stairs, he was lowered to the tarmac on an open ‘papal lift’ behind the aircraft – a first in 24 years of papal travel.
In Bulgaria, the Pope brought words of comfort to a country once suspected in a plot to kill him – the alleged ‘Bulgarian connection’ to the 1981 papal shooting.
‘I say to all that I have never ceased to love the Bulgarian people,’ the Pope said at a welcoming ceremony on May 23.
The Pope ended his trip by visiting an historic Orthodox monastery, meeting with young people and beatifying three Bulgarian priests executed under Communist rule in 1952. In Sofia’s Eastern-rite Catholic Co-Cathedral the pontiff handed over a relic of Pope John XXIII who was at one time apostolic nuncio in Bulgaria.