SOFIA, Bulgaria – The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to Bulgaria (all times local):
Pope Francis is ministering to Bulgaria’s young Catholics, travelling to the Catholic stronghold of Rakovsky for a First Communion Mass and meeting with the local community.
Nearly 250 jittery children in white robes filled the pews of the Sacred Heart church Monday, the girls wearing crowns of white roses. Citing local organizers, the Vatican said some 10,000 people were on hand outside to greet Francis.
In his homily, Francis told the children that receiving their First Communion was a celebration of communion with the whole church, and he urged them to share that joy with others.
Later, he engaged in a Q&A session with the kids, explaining to them the basics of the sacrament and living a Christian life in Italian that was then translated into Bulgarian.
Pope Francis has met with refugees in Bulgaria’s showcase refugee center and told them they are bearing the “cross of humanity,” after he urged the migrant-skeptic government to not close its eyes to their suffering during a visit to the Balkan nation.
Refugee children from Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere sang for Francis on Monday at the Vrazhdebna center, located in a refurbished school on the outskirts of Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.
Bulgaria’s center-right government has been criticized by human rights groups and the European Council for its treatment of asylum-seekers, particularly unaccompanied minors.
Francis is on the second-day of a three-day visit to the Balkans. Later Monday, he is to celebrate Mass in the Catholic stronghold of Rakovsky and celebrate First Communion for more than 200 children.