.- Speaking to North Macedonian authorities Tuesday, Pope Francis commended the country for its tradition of peaceful coexistence among its variety of cultures and religious and ethnic communities.
The country’s patrimony is “the multiethnic and multi-religious countenance of your people, the legacy of a rich and, indeed, complex history of relationships forged over the course of centuries,” he said May 7 at the Mosaique Hall of the presidential palace in Skopje.
Speaking to the authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps, Francis noted it is the first time a pope has visited North Macedonia. He pointed to the land’s time under both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, calling it “a bridge between East and West and a meeting-point for numerous cultural currents.”
“This crucible of cultures and ethnic and religious identities has resulted in a peaceful and enduring coexistence in which those individual identities have found expression and developed without rejecting, dominating or discriminating against others,” he said.
“They have thus given rise to a fabric of relationships and interactions that can serve as an example and a point of reference for a serene and fraternal communal life marked by diversity and reciprocal respect.”
These features are “highly significant for increased integration” with Europe, the pope said. The country has applied to join both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Indeed, its name, North Macedonia, was adopted only last year in an agreement with Greece after a dispute over the use of the name Macedonia.
Pope Francis expressed his hope that North Macedonia’s increased intregation with Europe “will develop in a way that is beneficial for the entire region of the Western Balkans, with unfailing respect for diversity and for fundamental rights.”
He said that in North Macedonia “the different religious identities of Orthodox, Catholics, other Christians, Muslims and Jews, and the ethnic differences between Macedonians, Albanians, Serbs, Croats, and persons of other backgrounds, have created a mosaic in which every piece is essential for the uniqueness and beauty of the whole. That beauty will become all the more evident to the extent that you succeed in passing it on and planting it in the hearts of the coming generation.”
“Every effort made to enable the diverse religious expressions and the different ethnic groups to find a common ground of understanding and respect for the dignity of every human person, and consequently the guarantee of fundamental freedoms, will surely prove fruitful,” according to Pope Francis. “Indeed, those efforts will serve as the necessary seedbed for a future of peace and prosperity.”
He welcomed North Macedonia’s “generous efforts … to welcome and provide assistance to the great number of migrants and refugees coming from different Middle Eastern countries” in 2015 and 2016.
“With you, they found a secure haven. The ready solidarity offered to those in such great need … does you honour. It says something about the soul of this people that, having itself experienced great privations, you recognize in solidarity and in the sharing of goods the route to all authentic development.”
The pope also pointed to the example of Mother Teresa, “one of your illustrious fellow-citizens, who, moved by the love of God, made love of neighbour the supreme law of her life.”
“You are rightly proud of this great woman,” he said. “I urge you to continue to work in a spirit of commitment, dedication and hope, so that the sons and daughters of this land, following her example, can recognize, attain and fully develop the vocation that God has envisaged for them.”