On the 50th anniversary of the death of Blessed Pope John XXIII, a conference devoted to this important figure, entitled “Patri amabili”, was held in Sofia, Bulgaria on 11 October last. The meeting was attended by religious and scholars from the Christian world, including the Apostolic Nuncio in Bulgaria Janusz Bolonek, the Chancellor of the Pontifical Lateran University Monsignor Enrico Dal Covolo, the President of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences Father Bernard Ardura, and the Apostolic Exarch and President of the Bulgarian Episcopal Conference Mons. Christo Proykov.
In bringing the greetings of the Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta Fra’ Matthew Festing, Grand Commander Fra’ Carlo d’Ippolito di Sant’Ippolito recalled the figure of Pope Roncalli: “50 years after his birth in heaven, Pope John XXIII is alive in our hearts and his pastoral magisterium – as priest, diplomat, Patriarch of Venice, successor of St. Mark and Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter – speaks with convincing relevance to all men and women of goodwill who open their hearts to his words with humility and honesty”.
Quoting from Pope Roncalli’s final encyclical, Pacem in Terris, the Grand Commander stressed how the “good Pope” – whose canonisation with that of John Paul II is scheduled for 27 April next – was able to enthral the entire world with his words and his work, overcoming walls and boundaries and opening an essential dialogue with representatives of all the religious denominations. This was particularly true during his diplomatic mission to Bulgaria as Apostolic Delegate. A mission that was only to have been for a few months but which lasted for ten years, from 1925 to 1935, during which the future pope – affectionately called “the Bulgarian pope” – created a fruitful bond with his Orthodox brothers. It was precisely during this period that, through his diary “The Journal of the Soul”, Monsignor Roncalli asked the pope to change his archbishop’s title to that of Mesembria, an ancient city on the Black Sea, testifying to the strong ties he had forged with Bulgaria.
The Conference, which was widely reported by all the Bulgarian media with special services by Vatican Radio, ended with a convivial meeting organised by the Sovereign Order of Malta’s Ambassador to Bulgaria, Camillo Zuccoli, with the participation of numerous personalities from the institutions, the religious world, diplomatic corps and civil society, including the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, the Minister of Culture Petar Stojanovic, the Chief of State Protocol Atanas Mladenov, the President of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Stefan Vodenicharov, the Orthodox Bishop Mons. Tihon, and the Moscow Patriarchate Representative to Bulgaria Father Filip.
To conclude the celebrations there was a Byzantine-Slav liturgy in the co-cathedral dedicated to Blessed Pope John XXIII on Saturday 12 October.