Skopje, North Macedonia, May 7, 2019 / 00:54 am
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.”