Pope lauds North Macedonia’s diversity, openness in 1st papal visit
Skopje, (Italy) May 7, 2019: Pope Francis on Tuesday commended North Macedonia for the peaceful coexistence of its ethnic, religious groups and its hospitality.
Especially during the refugee crisis on the first visit of a Catholic pontiff to the young Balkan country.
“The prompt solidarity that was offered to those who were in urgent need, honours you and says something about the spirit of this people,’’ the head of the Catholic Church said at the office of North Macedonian President Djordje Ivanov in the capital Skopje.
Francis highlighted the help that state authorities and civil society organisations had given to Middle Eastern refugees in 2015 and 2016, when the country was part of the main migration route to central Europe.
The small Balkan country that declared independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991 only counts around 20,000 Catholics among its 2.1 million inhabitants.
The majority are Christian Orthodox, while the mostly Muslim Albanian minority accounts for a quarter of the population. Turks, Roma, Serbs and Croatians form smaller minorities.
“Individual identities have been able to express themselves and develop without denying, oppressing or discriminating against others,’’ the pope said about the country’s religions and cultures.
“I am Orthodox,’’ a 65-year old woman named Donka told dpa at an open-air Mass attended by 10,000 people. “The pope brings a message of peace that unites us as Christians.’’
Francis also visited a shrine to Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje in 1910.
The pope elevated her to sainthood in 2016.
Before North Macedonia, Francis also visited Bulgaria on Tuesday.