Rakovski, Bulgaria, May 6, 2019 / 05:39 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Monday gave First Communion to 245 boys and girls in Rakovski, Bulgaria, telling them the Lord wants them to share the joy of the Eucharist with others.
"Making your First Communion shows that you want to be closer to Jesus every day, to grow in friendship with him and to lead other people to share in the joy he wants us to feel," the pope said May 6.
"The Lord needs you," he told the first communicants, "because he wants to work the miracle of bringing his joy to many of your friends and family members."
Pope Francis said Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Rakovski as part of his May 5-7 trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia. Catholics in Bulgaria are a small minority — estimated to be fewer than 50,000 in a population of more than 7 million. Rakovski, a town of around 20,000 people, is mainly Catholic.
According to local authorities, at Mass there were around 700 people inside the church and another 10,000 outside.
In his homily, Francis addressed the first communicants, pointing out that Jesus' miracle of the five loaves and two fish began with "one child who offered all he had."
"Like that child, you too have helped a miracle to take place today. The miracle by which all of us older people have recalled our own first meeting with Jesus in the Eucharist, and are filled with gratitude for that day."
Always pray with the same enthusiasm and joy you feel today, he urged.
He reminded the youth that this is their "first Communion," but it is not their last, and to remember that Jesus is always present and waiting for them in the Sacrament.
"I hope that today will be the beginning of many Communions, so that your hearts may always, like today, be festive, full of joy and, above all else, gratitude," he said.
Pope Francis said he was happy to spend this moment of celebration, friendship, joy, and fraternity with all of them, noting that it is a day of communion with themselves and with the whole Church, which "especially in the Eucharist, expresses the communion that makes all of us brothers and sisters."
"This," he continued, "is our identity card: God is our Father, Jesus is our brother, the Church is our family. All of us are brothers and sisters, and our law is love."
He told the boys and girls he is sure they will always remember this day: their first encounter with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
"One of you might ask me: How can we meet Jesus? He lived a long time ago, but then he died and was laid in the tomb!" Francis said. "It is true: Jesus carried out an immense act of love to save human beings of all times."
But, he explained, after three days, he rose from the dead. "Now Jesus is alive and is here with us. That is why we can encounter him today in the Eucharist. We do not see him with our physical eyes, but we do see him with the eyes of faith."
Early Monday morning, before traveling to Rakovski, Pope Francis made a visit to the Vrazhdebna Refugee Center on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, where he greeted about 50 parents and children from Syria and Iraq.
During the visit, some of the children performed a song for Pope Francis and gave him drawings they had made.
The pope thanked the group for their welcome and the children for their beautiful singing. "They bring joy to your journey," he said. "Your journey is not always beautiful, and then there is the pain of leaving your homeland…"
But, there is always hope, he said, adding that "today, the world of migrants and refugees is a bit of a cross, a cross of humanity; it is the cross that so many people suffer…"
Before parting, Francis asked for their prayers and gave them his apostolic blessing.
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