Furnishing the Pro Oriente pastoral centre in Sofia
The furnishing of the Pro Oriente pastoral centre in Sofia is a very important project for the Catholic Church in Bulgaria.
The foundation stone for this building was laid by the then nuncio Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, and who also blessed the new building.
With the confiscation of Church properties in the 1950s, this building was also taken from the Church. It was used among other things as a music school.
In 1999 the Church was given back the building in a very dilapidated condition. Extensive and expensive renovation work is now necessary before it can once again be used by the Church for a variety purposes. Given the high overall cost, it can only be restored little by little, in stages.
This centre is intended to serve the evangelisation of the whole country. Since it was established this house has borne the name "Pro Oriente". It is intended to be a meeting place for the various different ethnic, religious and denominational groups, and especially to serve the cause of dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which is currently under the leadership of his Holiness Patriarch Maxim. Last year a number of important and positive steps were taken in this relationship. Thus, for example, representatives of the Catholic Church were invited to take part in the international conference on Byzantine and Slavic art, which was held in Plovdiv from 5 to 8 September and which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Patriarch Maxim and Metropolitan Arsenji of Plovdiv all likewise attended. And similarly, for the celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Maxim on 7 July, the apostolic nuncio, Antonio Mennini, and Bishop Christo Proykov, the apostolic exarch for the Catholics of the Byzantine rite, were also invited.
It is further intended that the Pro Oriente centre should house the Bulgarian bishops' conference, as well as a centre for the vocations apostolate and a youth formation centre. It is a prime concern of the nuncio in Sofia that this house should be open to all social groups. The Church has the important task of promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence among the various social groups.
Also planned are exhibitions of various Byzantine icons, especially those by Orthodox artists who are open towards ecumenical dialogue.
A small chapel has already been completed inside the building. Mass is celebrated here every Sunday. But by now this room has already grown far too small for the numerous Catholic faithful who flock here to the Sunday Masses. Many worshippers have to be content with standing in the corridors. Since there are only very few Churches in Sofia, the interest in this chapel is especially great among the faithful.
The next step in the renovation is expected to be one of the floors of this multi-storey building, so that its rooms can be used for a variety of Church activities.
The Catholic Church in Bulgaria has no way of funding this project from its own resources. Aid to the Church in Need is already helping with 20,000 Euros
Photo: Inside the Pro Oriente pastoral centre in Sofia