The parish should be at the center of the community, a place where God's presence is felt and hope and love are shared with the world, Pope Francis told Catholics in Bulgaria, Monday.

"The parish, in this way, becomes a home in the midst of homes," he said May 6. "It manages to make the Lord present there, where every family, every person tries to earn their daily bread."

The parish should be "a family among families, open to bearing witness in today's world… open to faith, hope and love for the Lord and for those whom he has a preferential love. A home with open doors."

The pope pointed to the testimony he heard from a Catholic Bulgarian family who said the parish, for them, "has always been a second home, the place where they always found strength to carry on, amid community prayer and the support of loved ones."

"To see things with the eyes of God, we need other people," he added. "We need them to teach us to look and feel the way Jesus looks and feels, to let our heart beat with his own feelings."

Pope Francis met with the Bulgarian Catholic community at the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Rakovski during a May 5-7 visit 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.

In his remarks to the Catholic community, Francis spoke about his experience that morning at a refugee center, where volunteers told him the heart of the center's life and work "is the recognition that every person is a child of God, regardless of ethnicity or religious confession."

Love, he stated, does not ask to see someone's curriculum vitae; it "precedes, it takes the first step."

More in Europe

"Those who love do not waste time in self-pity, but always try to do something concrete."

Pope Francis also reflected on Pope St. John XXIII, who served as apostolic delegate in Bulgaria for nearly 10 years while still an archbishop. A relic of St. John XXIII was present in the church, which Francis venerated during the meeting.

"Good Pope John," he said, "was convinced of the need to trust in God's providence, which constantly accompanies us and even in the midst of adversity is capable of bringing about his deeper and unforeseeable plans."

"As Pope John said: 'I never met a pessimist who managed to do something good.' The Lord is the first not to be pessimistic. He constantly tries to open up paths of resurrection for all of us. How marvelous it is when our communities become building-sites of hope!" he said.

Every member of the Church "dedicates his or her life to the others. None of us can live only for ourselves; we live for others."

He noted that "the priestly people can say with its priests: 'This is my body given up for you.' That is how we learn to be a Church, a family and a community that welcomes, listens, accompanies, cares for others, revealing its true face, which is that of a mother," he said.

He said that a Church that is a mother takes on the problems of her children, offering life and reconciliation – not easy answers. The Church community, like a family, takes up "the knotty problems of life," loving them, making them its own, before untangling them.

(Story continues below)

"Men and women of God have the courage to take the first step in finding creative ways of directly testifying that Love is not dead, but has triumphed over every obstacle. They get involved because they have learned that, in Jesus, God himself gets involved. He put his own flesh at stake so that no one will feel alone or abandoned," Francis said.

He noted the important relationship between the laity and priests, who should learn from their community. "A living community, one that supports, accompanies, integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, where everyone learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others."