Pope beatifies 'martyr' priests


BULGARIA: Pope John Paul II, in the final act of his bridge-building visit to Bulgaria, yesterday beatified three Catholic priests executed for spying half a century ago.

Thousands of people, waving Bulgarian and Vatican flags, attended a papal Mass in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city.

The three priests - Kamen Vitchev, Pavel Djidjov and Josaphat Chichkov - were executed in 1952 in a Sofia prison after being convicted of espionage and plotting to wage war against Bulgaria and the Soviet Union.

"In thinking of the three new Beati, I also feel duty bound to honour the memory of the other faithful, who were sons and daughters of the Orthodox Church and who suffered martyrdom under the same communist regime," the Pope told about 10,000 people - including pilgrims from Greece, Macedonia, Poland and Romania.

The local Orthodox bishop attended the Mass and hailed the Pope's visit - his 96th foreign tour. The Pope's latest five-day visit, which included a 24-hour stay in Azerbaijan, carried a message of religious unity.

In Azerbaijan, a predominantly Muslim country with a tiny 150-member Catholic community, the Pope said: "Enough of wars in the name of God. No more profanation of his holy name."

In Bulgaria, he offered the use of a church in Rome to the Bulgarian Orthodox community and also praised the tradition of eastern monasticism. The Catholic community in Bulgaria numbers 60,000 - less than 1 per cent of the population.