The event was officially marked on last June 30th at the International Centre of UniCredit Bulbank in Sofia.

Under heightened interest on behalf of ambassadors and journalists,was presented the book of Dr. Kiril Kartaloff, member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences "Bulgaria and the Holy See: 25 years of diplomatic relations (1990-2015)." Interventions on this study and the history of the diplomatic relations have been made by the following speakers: H.E. Mgr. Archbishop Anselmo Guido Pecorari, Ambassador, Head of Mission, Apostolic Nuncio, Fra Bernard Ardura, O.Praem., President of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, H.M. Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria (2001-2005), H.E. Mr. Lyudmil Popov, former Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Italy (1991-1992).

The book was published in Italian by the authoritative Vatican Publishing House LEV (Libreria Editrice Vaticana) and there prefaces to it have been written by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, who recently paid a state visit to Bulgaria, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria Mr. Daniel Mitov and Prof. Kiril Topalov, Ambassador of Bulgaria to the Holy See. The book tells of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the Holy See and contains information concerning awarding of the credentials of the ambassadors of Bulgaria to the Holy See and of the Apostolic Nuncio to our country, as well as an Anthology of speeches and sermons of popes, presidents, representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and other unpublished documents from the diplomatic correspondence of Mgr. Roncalli during his stay in Bulgaria (1925-1934).

Among the speakers at the event there was a particularly impressive exposé on the Anniversary of the Apostolic Nuncio, presented by His Eminence Monseigneur Archbishop Anselmo Guido Pecorari:

The Holy See and Bulgaria: 25 years of diplomatic relations

Distinguished participants and guests,

It is an honor and a pleasure for me to see you all gathered here in this hall, generously made available by UniCredit Bulbank, to commemorate, on the occasion of the Holy See’s National day (celebrated on last June, 29th, Feast of the Holy Apostles Saints Peter and Paul), 25 years of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Bulgaria. Diplomatic relations commenced officially on December 6th, 1990. The first Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Mario Rizzi, was appointed on February 28th, 1991.

The principle events of the twenty five years of Diplomatic Relations, along with the preparatory period for this historic event, have been compiled, through an excellent historical documentation, in the book which we are launching officially today by Dr. Kiril Kartaloff, entitled Bulgaria e Santa Sede – venticinque anni di Relazioni Diplomatiche (1990-2015)”, published by the Vatican Publishing House, Vatican City State.

I would like, however, to outline briefly the importance of the Holy See’s diplomatic activity, which was the first to carry out diplomatic activity in Europe.  This will be followed by a historical sketch of the presence of the Papacy and the Holy See in the Bulgarian Region, and the long road of 1.125 years in preparation for the establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Bulgaria and the Holy See.

Holy See is a term employed in both international law and in international relations.  It indicates the Central Government Body of the Catholic Church and is recognized internationally as an Autonomous Entity in International Law.  The Holy See is a unique entity among the other subjects of international law.  The Holy See enjoys an international personality similar to individual States.  Its existence, as Autonomic and Sovereign Entity, includes and surpasses that of the small State Vatican City.

What is the origin of the name “Holy See”? It certainly does not mean that it is entirely “Holy”.  The origin is due to the presence in Rome of the Holy Saints Peter and Paul. St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, was martyred in Rome, in the area of the Vatican Hill. Saint Paul was also martyred in Rome and both their sepulchers are preserved in Rome. The Pope, as Bishop of Rome, is the successor of the Apostle Saint Peter. All Catholics in the world have the principal reference point to the Pope. At the end of 2014 year the Catholics in the world were 1 257 000 000. The Holy See is governed by the Holy Father. The present Pope is Pope Francis.  The Vatican City State, constituted as a State in 1929, is a small territory, with internationally recognition, which guarantees to the Holy See freedom and independence of action. The Holy See cannot be identified only in terms of the Vatican City State, even if the Vatican City State is its principal location.  

The Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with almost every country of the World - 182 States - and with almost all the international organizations.  The Holy See has a relationship, though without having full diplomatic relationships, with some States, while with other States the Holy See has commenced the process of coming together, through more or less public and official dialogue. There are 190 Apostolic Nunciatures of the Holy See worldwide.

Papal diplomacy is among the oldest in the world. The history testifies to a long, active and vibrant presence of the Holy See on the international stage.  It is worth underlining that the Holy See has exercised the right of legation almost from the beginning of its history. When, at the end of the fifteenth century, Nation States began to be formed, the Roman Pontiff started to send his Representative (Ambassador), to them, and who, from that time were began to be called an Apostolic Nuncio, and still referred to as such today. The first Apostolic Nuncio was appointed to the Kingdom of Spain in 1524 year.

Many people ask what need has the Pope to have diplomatic relation with States. The activity of the Holy See is multifaceted: it provides a moral voice in the world of international relations; it reminds the world of the existence of both common human and transcendent values; it defends the pillars on which every human society stands. The Holy See speaks on these themes, not for the good of some people, but for the good of all humanity.  One of the main duties of the Holy See is to foster harmony within the Church: between the Successor of Peter, the Pope, and the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops. In addition, the Holy See, in union with the local bishop, has the goal to promote relations between the Catholic Church and the State, without forgetting the relations with other Religious Groups that are present in any given country.

Now let us explore when and how the presence of the Papacy and the Holy See began in the Bulgarian Region, and to see how the long historical path developed and culminated in the establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Bulgarian State and the Holy See.


The first visit - historically documented – by a Pope on the territory that is now Bulgaria and that, in those ancient times, was a Province of the Roman Empire called the Illyrian Eastern Province, dates back to the years 343-344, when the Council of Serdika (now called Sofia) took place.  The Council was convened by the Emperor Constantius, at the request of Pope Julius I, who himself was present at the Council.

The documented presence of the Holy See in Bulgaria Kingdom appears during the years 866-867. It was the period in which, in other parts of the Slavic World, Saints Cyril and Methodius were working. They have received the approval, for their work among the Slavs, by the Popes Giovanni VIII and Formoso. Pope Formoso was before Papal Legate to the Kingdom of Bulgaria.  In those years 866-867 Pope Nicolas I sent his two Legates, Formoso di Porto (who was elected Pope Formoso) and Paolo of Populonia, to the Bulgarian Kingdom in order to bring to King Boris the "Responsa” of the Pope to the Letter which he had previously sent to King Boris, on his conversion to the Christian faith and his baptism.  The two Papal Legates ordered the construction of the first Christian Basilica in Pliska. There is a small curious historical note: one of the two Papal Legates is Paul, Archbishop of Populonia. Now, after 1150 years, I, the Apostolic Nuncio to Bulgaria, am the titular Archbishop of Populonia. How history periodically repeats itself!

After the years 866-867, the Kingdom of Bulgaria continues to have relations, although not continuous and regular, with the Papacy and the Holy See. The Bulgarians were worried about defending themselves from Byzantium interference. For this reason, they were delighted to have relations with Rome.  The relations with the Papacy and the Holy See ceased during the period of Ottoman occupation. However, the presence of a small minority of Catholics faithful to Rome continued.

In 1925 the Holy See resumed its formal presence in Bulgaria.  Pope Pius XI sent Mgr. Angelo Roncalli as an Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria.

In 1931, Mgr. Angelo Roncalli was appointed as Apostolic Delegate to the Kingdom of Bulgaria. The Apostolic Delegation was opened in Sofia, in the same building where the present Apostolic Nunciature is located, beside the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky.                         

There were no Diplomatic Relations between the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Holy See, but there was an acceptance and an implicit recognition on the part of the Authorities of the Kingdom of Bulgaria of the mandate which Mgr. Roncalli was carrying out on behalf of the Holy See. On 23 February 1949, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria removed all legal recognition of the presence of the Holy See in Bulgaria. In 1951, the Apostolic Delegation building, which is now the Apostolic Nunciature, was expropriated.

What followed was a period of obscurity of Holy See’s presence in Bulgaria. The contacts gradually resumed, in an informal manner, during the pontificate of Pope John XXIII, who had previously lived in Sofia for ten years, and also during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI.  Mgr. Agostino Casaroli had an important role in these contacts, initially when he was entrusted with the responsibility for relations with Eastern European Countries during period of Communist Regimes, and later as Secretary of State of the Holy See. Cardinal Casaroli was the architect of the so-called Vatican Ostpolitik.  Furthermore, he played an important role in renewing both relations between Bulgaria and the Holy See as well as in the Embassy of Bulgaria to Italy, especially during the 1980’s.

On December 6th, 1990, at the request of the Republic of Bulgaria,  Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Holy See were established.  The first Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Mario Rizzi, was appointed by Pope John Paul II on February 28th 1991, which happily saw the conclusion of over a century long journey.  A new phase of relations between the Holy See and Bulgaria commenced.

Since then, six Apostolic Nuncios to Bulgaria have been appointed.  Pope John Paul II, by undertaking his official visit to Bulgaria in 2002, wanted to seal the new historical phase of relations between Bulgaria and the Holy See. Among the other important visits to Bulgaria, is the visit in 2005 by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and the visit by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in March 2016.

 The photo has been kindly provided by UniCredit Bulbank. From its left to right are: Dr. Kiril Kartaloff, compiler of the book "Bulgaria and the Holy See. 25 years of diplomatic relations (1990-2015)”, His Eminence Monseigneur Archbishop Anselmo Guido Pecorari, Ambassador, Head of Mission, Apostolic Nuncio and His Majesty Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria (2001-2005)