BY LUKE COPPEN
JOHN PAUL II ended an historic trip to Bulgaria on Sunday with a resounding appeal for unity with the Orthodox Church.
The Pope said his visit to the mainly Orthodox country was a sign of "gradual growth" in unity between the eastern and western Church, but the 1,000year rift between the two communions remained a grave obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel.
The leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church gave the Pope an unexpectedly warm welcome during his four-day visit, raising hopes that the Pontiff might soon fulfil his long-held ambition to make a pilgrimage to Moscow.
The Pope, who is 82, shrugged off speculation about his failing health to complete a gruelling journey which began with an overnight trip to the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.
During his brief stay, the Pope celebrated Mass in a sports stadium for the nation's 130 Catholics. The alarm was briefly raised when a 40-yearold disabled man pushed past security guards and lunged towards the Pontiff. The man, an Azeri, who claimed he had been driven from his home in neighbouring Armenia after the conflict over NagornoKarabakh, was surrounded by bodyguards and led away. The Pope later asked for the man to be brought to him, and gave him a rosary.
Later, with the help of a hydraulic service lift dubbed the "Popelift", John Paul boarded a plane for the Bulgarian capital, Sofia On his arrival, he was greeted by the leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Maxim. The Patriarch, who had long opposed a papal visit to the 85 per cent Orthodox country, had not been expected to attend the welcoming ceremony.
On the evening dills arrival, the Pope said he did not believe that Bulgarian officials had helped to plan the assassination attempt that nearly ended his life in 1981. He departed from prepared remarks to tell Gheorgi Parvanov, the excommunist Bulgarian President, that he had "never believed in the so-called Bulgarian connection because of my great esteem and respect for the Bulgarian people".
The following day, the Patriarch invited the Pontiff to his palace to meet Bulgaria's Orthodox bishops. Following a handshake between the two leaders, the majority of the 12 bishops kissed the Pope's hand. The Pope responded to the surprisingly warm reception by offering the Bulgarian Orthodox Church two gifts — the use of a Catholic church near Rome's Trevi Fountain and a relic of St Dasius. a Roman martyr widely honoured in Bulgaria.
Addressing the Patriarch, the Pope said: "This first time in history that a Bishop of Rome visits this land and meets you and the Holy Synod is rightly a moment of joy, because it is a sign of a gradual growth in ecclesial communion.
"Yet this cannot distract us from sincerely recognising that Christ our Lord founded a single Church, while we today appear to the world divided, as if Christ himself were divided.
"Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalises the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature.
"One thing, however, consoles us: the estrangement between Catholics and Orthodox has never extinguished in them the desire to restore full ecclesial communion, so that the unity for which the Lord prayed to the Father might be manifested more clearly. Today we can give thanks to God that the bonds between us have been much strengthened."
The Pope's meeting with the Orthodox leaders took place on the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Greek brothers who evangelised central Europe in the ninth century before Christendom divided into east and west. He said the missionary saints were "emblematic" for Continued on Page Two