Like Saints Cyril and Methodius shared the Gospel with the Slavic people in the 9th century, today the world is still in need of Christian evangelization, Pope Francis said Wednesday. Cyril and Methodius “were able to use their culture with creativity to transmit the Christian message to the Slavic peoples; they created a new alphabet with which they translated the Bible and the liturgical texts into the Slavic language,” he said May 8. “Even today there is a need for passionate and creative evangelizers, so that the Gospel may reach those who do not yet know it and can irrigate the lands where the ancient Christian roots have dried up again.”
At his weekly general audience, Pope Francis spoke about his May 5-7 visit to the countries of Bulgaria and North Macedonia, which focused on ecumenical dialogue with Orthodox Christians. In Bulgaria, the pope visited the Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Sofia, where he paused in prayer before a sacred image of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Francis noted that present-day Bulgaria is one of the countries evangelized by the “two holy brothers,” whom St. Pope John Paul II declared patrons of Europe alongside St. Benedict.
In Bulgaria, the pope said he was guided by the example of his predecessor, St. Pope John XXIII, who was apostolic delegate in the country for nearly 10 years as an archbishop. “Animated by his example of benevolence and pastoral charity, I met that people, called to act as a bridge between Central, Eastern and Southern Europe,” he said. “With the motto ‘Pacem in terris’ I invited everyone to walk on the path of fraternity.”
In Bulgaria, Francis met with Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neophyte and with other patriarchs of the Holy Synod. “As Christians, our vocation and mission is to be a sign and instrument of unity,” he emphasized. “And we can be, with the help of the Holy Spirit, putting what unites us before what has divided us or still divides us.” Pope Francis also said two Masses in Bulgaria, and he said he is thankful for the “faith and love” he was shown by the small Catholic community in that country.
In North Macedonia, he was most struck by his meeting with the poor and with some Missionaries of Charity at the Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje. The tenderness of the sisters touched him in a particular way, he said, adding that it was a “tenderness which comes from prayer, from adoration.” He said he saw the sisters be like mothers toward everyone, and that their charity is joyful, not bitter. Speaking about St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who was born and raised in Skopje, Francis said, “in this woman, petite but full of strength thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit in her, we see the image of the Church in that country and in other peripheries of the world: a small community that, with the grace of Christ, becomes a welcoming home where many find refreshment for their life.”
In Skopje, the pope listened to testimonies from young people and from priests and consecrated, with whom he said there can be the temptation to question if one’s small efforts make any difference in the face of the problems of the world and Church. “I reminded them that a bit of yeast can make all the dough grow, and a little bit of perfume, pure and concentrated, smells good around the whole atmosphere,” he said.
He also praised North Macedonia’s welcome of migrants, particularly in 2015 and 2016, during the European migration crisis. Their welcoming hearts are “a great thing about this people,” he said. “To his inexhaustible Providence we all entrust together the present and the future of the peoples I visited on this journey,” he concluded. “And I invite you to pray to Our Lady to bless these countries, Bulgaria and North Macedonia.”
By Hannah Brockhaus
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