Don’t let differences divide you, pope tells North Macedonians
May 6, 2019
US & World
Arriving in Skopje, North Macedonia with its skyline dotted by minarets and domes, Pope Francis told civic leaders that the country’s ethnic and religious diversity is a “precious patrimony” to be appreciated and treasured.
Gjorge Ivanov, ending his term as president, told the pope May 7, “You come at a time when the Macedonian society is deeply divided, and the Macedonian country is heavily wounded by broken promises, unfulfilled expectations and faltering trust in the international community.”
NATO and the European Union, supporting the position of Greece, delayed talks to allow the former Yugoslav republic to join until after it agreed in February to change its name to North Macedonia.
As the delay dragged on, Ivanov said, many people believed “the cross and crescent, the church and the mosque are being misused as borders and fortresses to mark and defend some kind of imaginary territories. It seems we forget that we are all people, regardless of our belief.”
Orthodox Christians make up about 68 percent of the country’s population and Muslims account for about 30 percent of the citizens; Catholics are less than 1 percent of the population.
North Macedonians chose Stevo Pendarovski as their next president May 5; Pendarovski, a pro-Western candidate, is expected to guide the nation into NATO in 2020 and into the European Union.
Speaking in the Mosaic Hall of the presidential palace, Pope Francis said the country’s Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians, its Muslims and its Jews and its people with Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian and Croatian heritage “have created a mosaic in which every piece is essential for the uniqueness and beauty of the whole.”
“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,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also used his 10-hour visit to North Macedonia as an opportunity to thank the nation’s people for welcoming and assisting migrants and refugees, especially those who left Syria and Iraq in 2015 and 2016, crossing into Macedonia after the more common Mediterranean route to Western Europe became more difficult to navigate.
According to statistics from the Council of Europe, at the end of 2017 there were 123,000 migrants in North Macedonia, the equivalent of 6.3 percent of the population.
“With you, they found a secure haven,” the pope said. “The ready solidarity offered to those in such great need – people who had left behind so many of their dear ones, to say nothing of their homes, their work and their homeland – does you honor.”
“It says something about the soul of this people” that, despite widespread poverty and unemployment, the people of North Macedonia offered their solidarity and concrete assistance, the pope said.
“It is my hope that you will cherish the chain of solidarity that emerged from that emergency,” he said, “and thus support all volunteer efforts to meet the many different forms of hardship and need.”
Pope Francis also went to the tiny Balkan nation to pay tribute to a tiny saint who accomplished big things: St. Teresa of Kolkata.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Ganxhe Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in Skopje Aug. 26, 1910, so after paying the obligatory formal visit to North Macedonia’s president, Pope Francis went May 7 to the memorial and museum built on the site of the church where she was baptized. The church was later destroyed in an earthquake.
“Moved by the love of God,” the pope told the president, Mother Teresa “made love of neighbor the supreme law of her life.”
At the memorial, Pope Francis did not speak about the saintly founder of the Missionaries of Charity, but after praying silently before her relics, he praised God for the gift of her life and prayed for her intercession for North Macedonia.
Pope Francis also prayed that God would give Christians the grace “to become signs of love and hope in our own day when so many are poor, abandoned, marginalized and migrants.”
Among the guests present at the memorial were dozens of Missionaries of Charity, about 100 of the people they serve in Skopje, and two of Mother Teresa’s cousins, the Vatican said.
Celebrating Mass in the nearby Macedonia Square on a brisk spring morning, Pope Francis drew people’s attention to human hungers – the hunger for bread, but also the hunger for truth, for God and for love.
“How well Mother Teresa knew all this and desired to build her life on the twin pillars of Jesus incarnate in the Eucharist and Jesus incarnate in the poor,” he said. “Love received and love given” marked her journey from Skopje to India and kept her going.
Too many people, he said, “have become accustomed to eating the stale bread of disinformation,” and so they end up being prisoners of a worldview that makes them either indifferent to others or downright hostile.
Christians must never be afraid to tell God that they are hungry “for an experience of fraternity in which indifference, disparagement and contempt will not fill our tables or take pride of place in our homes,” he said. “We are hungry, Lord, for encounters where your word can raise hope, awaken tenderness and sensitize the heart by opening paths of transformation and conversion.”
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