Presidents of Bulgaria and North Macedonia visit pope together

The work of the brother saints Cyril and Methodius will be honoured today jointly by Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The presidents of the two countries – Rumen Radev and Stevo Pendarovski, respectively – are to be received by Pope Francis as part of their visit to Rome, where they are also set to visit places of significance to the legacy of the inventors of the Slavic alphabet.

Radev is also scheduled to meet Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and attend a mass at the Basilica of Saint Clement, where the brother saints Cyril and Methodius officiated in Bulgarian for the first time. It is also where the grave of St Cyril is located.

In the afternoon, the two heads of state, accompanied by their spouses, will visit the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where in the 9th century Pope Adrian II blessed the newly invented alphabet. While in Rome, the Bulgarian president will lay wreaths at the monuments of Ivan Vazov and the brother saints Cyril and Methodius and will visit the Church of St. Paul alla Regola, which is where the Bulgarian community holds its liturgies.

Over the past couple of years, it has become a tradition for the Bulgarian president to visit Rome around 24 May to commemorate the work of the brother saints, a trip that often includes a meeting with the head of the Roman Catholic Church. This is unsurprising since in 1980 Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Cyril and St. Methodius co-patrons of Europe, recognising the intransient legacy their work left to the European civilisation.

What is notable is that this year the Bulgarian and North Macedonian delegations are paying their respects to that body of work together. Until now, Skopje representatives normally visited Rome a day after their Bulgarian counterparts. In this case, we may interpret the joint visit as a sign of the two countries’ desire to make a gesture of good will in search of a long-awaited compromise. After all, a key decision on whether North Macedonia will be allowed to open EU accession talks is expected to come at the end of June. And if North Macedonians genuinely want the door to the EU to open for them, they should show those who currently hold the key some measure of respect. This time, the people in question are the Bulgarians.  

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