By Tim Harfmann
While in the Balkans, Pope Francis made another powerful display of solidarity with migrants, meeting with nearly 50 asylum seekers at a refugee camp in Bulgaria.
Young, cheerful children from the camp greeted the Holy Father in song, then each one presented him with a handmade drawing.
Francis encouraged the migrants not to lose sight of their journey and turn to Christ for guidance, saying that there is always hope at the end of their journey.
“Today, the world of migrants and refugees is a bit like a cross, a cross of humanity; and the cross is that many people suffer,” he said during his visit.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria has seen only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking to get to Western Europe through the Balkans.
According to Caritas, only 2,500 refugees entered Bulgaria last year.
Almost half of that total arrived in the last three months, indicating a new wave of migration.
Pope Francis stressed the importance of welcoming strangers in the Balkan nation since stepping off the plane for his three-day journey.
This message carried special importance, as according to the United Nations, Bulgaria has the fastest shrinking population in the world. The country is constantly losing its youth and educated classes to opportunities elsewhere.
“I respectfully suggest that you not close your eyes, your hearts or your hands, in accordance with your best tradition, to those who knock at your door,” Pope Francis said.
The pontiff then celebrated Mass in Sofia, where he called on the faithful to live as apostles, remembering that God calls and loves everyone.
Of the country’s seven million people, Catholics make up less than one percent.
Yet, the Catholic population saw a sign of prosperity, as Francis celebrated a special Mass for over 240 children receiving their first communion.
“Remember, Jesus is always waiting for you,” he told the children preparing to receive the sacrament.
“Some miracles can only take place if we have a heart like yours: a heart capable of sharing, dreaming, feeling gratitude, trusting and respecting other people,” he added, encouraging them to keep an open and childlike heart each day.
Such openness could also lead to Bulgaria being more welcoming towards migrants.