Pope Francis has met with refugees in a Bulgarian refugee center and told them they are bearing the "cross of humanity," after he urged the country's migrant-skeptic government not to close its eyes to their suffering.
Children from Iraq, Pakistan, and other conflict hot spots sang for Francis and gave him drawings during a visit to the Vrazhdebna center, located in a school refurbished with EU funds on the outskirts of the capital, Sofia.
Francis compared the refugees' suffering to the cross Christ bore.
"Today, the world of migrants and refugees is a kind of cross, the cross of humanity," Francis said. "It's a cross that many people suffer."
Bulgaria's center-right government has been criticized by human rights groups and the European Council for its treatment of asylum seekers.
The government has called for the EU to close its borders to migrants and has erected a barbed-wire fence at its border with Turkey.
Francis is on the second day of a three-day visit to the Balkans. On May 7, he travels to neighboring North Macedonia for the first-ever papal visit to the country.