16:06 Sat 24 May 2008 - Clive Leviev-Sawyer
Rome- Receiving a Bulgarian delegation on May 24 headed by Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin, who was accompanied by senior Bulgarian Orthodox Church clergy, Pope Benedict XVI blessed Bulgaria and reached out with a conciliatory message to Orthodox Christians.
In honour of the fact that May 24 is celebrated as the Day of Slavonic Alphabet, because it is the feast day of SS Cyril and Methodius, the ninth century scholars who laid the foundations of Cyrillic script, the Pope departed from his customary practice of noting granting audiences on Saturdays, to receive delegations from Bulgaria and from Macedonia.
In remarks prepared before the meeting, the Pope paid tribute to the place of Cyril and Methodius in shared Christian tradition and called on Christians to emulate this principle of unity.
At the meeting, issues discussed included Roman Catholic church properties in the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia that had not yet been returned to the church through Bulgaria's post-communist property restitution process. It is understood that the properties are residential buildings in the Ovcha Kupel district.
Also discussed was Bulgaria's wish for improved co-operation between the Vatican library and Bulgaria's state archives, in which Bulgaria has an interest for the sake of assisting researchers.
Kalfin presented the Pope with a gold-plated iconostasis and the church delegation gave him a rood screen.
On arrival at the Vatican, and before meeting Benedict XVI, the delegation visited the tomb of the late pope John Paul II, with a deeply emotional silence settling on the group in the moments after Kalfin laid flowers on the late pope's tomb. Bishop Tihon, speaking briefly at the tomb, recalled how deeply impressed John Paul II had been by Bulgaria's Rila Monastery during his visit to the country in 2002.
Kalfin and the delegation attended a morning service at the St Clemente Basilica, in the crypt that is the location of the tomb of Cyril. Metropolitan Ilarion led a service, with the crypt densely crowded with members of the Bulgarian community in Rome, Bulgarian tourists who made the pilgrimage for the day and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. The confines of the crypt resounded as all the Bulgarians present, official or ordinary people, spiritedly joined in singing a traditional hymn in honour of Cyril and Methodius.
Kalfin said that today, Bulgaria was part of the European family with its own language and culture, and said that Cyril and Methodius had played a part in the foundations and freedoms of Europe.
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