St. John XXIII, pope from 1958-1963, was canonized together with St. John Paul II in 2014. Before becoming pope, St. John XXIII was the first apostolic visitor and then apostolic delegate to Bulgaria, from 1925 to 1931.
Much of the pope's three day trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia will be dedicated to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. His visit includes an interreligious meeting with youth in Skopje, North Macedonia, and a meeting with the Patriarch Neophyte and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Pope Francis said he also plans to spend time praying in silence before the throne of Sts. Cyril and Methodius within the Eastern Orthodox cathedral.
"Your land is home to witnesses to the faith, since the time when the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius sowed the Gospel there: a fruitful sowing that brought abundant fruit even in the difficult periods of the last century," Pope Francis said in the video message.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius are called the "Apostles of the Slavs" for their dedication to spreading the Gospel throughout Eastern Europe in the ninth century. John Paul II named the brother saints co-patrons of Europe, along with St. Benedict.
Pope Francis' trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia will be the pope's first visit to a European country of 2019 after already traveling to three other continents for pastoral visits to Panama, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco this year.