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Pope Francis starts three-day visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia

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Pope Francis starts three-day visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia
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REUTERS
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Pope Francis urged Bulgarians to be more welcoming towards refugees during a visit to Bulgaria on Sunday.

At his arrival, the pontiff was greeted by Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov starting off his three-day visit to the country and North Macedonia.

Borisov welcomed the pope's visit saying "it reflects his interest in the peaceful economic development of the Balkans."

The three-day tour will include a visit to a refugee camp in outskirts of Sofia and a commemoration of Mother Teresa — the famous Macedonian nun.

"Bulgaria confronts the phenomenon of those seeking to cross its borders in order to flee wars, conflicts or dire poverty, in the attempt to reach the wealthiest areas of Europe, there to find new opportunities in life or simply a safe refuge," the pope said.

"To all Bulgarians, who are familiar with the drama of emigration, 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," he said.

The pope also mentioned a "new winter" plaguing Bulgaria in reference to the falling birth rates the country faces.

"Bulgaria faces the effects of the emigration in recent decades of over two million of her citizens in search of new opportunities for employment," he said, adding that this had "led to the depopulation and abandonment of many villages and cities".

The Orthodox Church has rejected the idea of holding joint prayers with the pontiff.