Pope Francis traveled to Bulgaria Sunday to meet with the faithful but was stymied in his hopes of celebrating a joint prayer service with representatives of the Orthodox Church.
The pontiff had proposed an ecumenical prayer meeting with delegates of the Orthodox Church to underscore Christian unity in the nation where Catholics are a tiny minority and more than three-quarters of the population identify as Eastern Orthodox.
Last month, the governing body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church rejected the proposal for Orthodox priests to join in a “prayer for peace” with the pope in a Sofia square on Monday.
According to the Vatican, the Orthodox Church will instead send a children’s choir to the interreligious meeting, which will reportedly be attended by one of Sofia’s Muslim leaders.
Despite his cool reception by the Orthodox, the pope persisted in his message of Christian unity Sunday, speaking of the many Christians in Bulgaria who “endured suffering for the name of Jesus, particularly during the persecution of the last century.”
A common suffering for the name of Christ is “the ecumenism of blood,” Francis said, while referring to those who suffered persecution and martyrdom as “witnesses of Easter.”
“While so many other brothers and sisters of ours throughout the world continue to suffer for their faith, they ask us not to remain closed, but to open ourselves,” he said.
The pontiff also suggested that all Christians share in a common “ecumenism of the poor,” marked by a call “to journey and act together in order to bear witness to the Lord, particularly by serving the poorest and most neglected of our brothers and sisters, in whom He is present.”
While “respecting our own traditions and distinctive identities,” we need to help one another find ways of passing on the faith to our young people, Francis said.
Otherwise, they risk falling for “the deceitful siren songs of a consumerist society,” he said.
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