By Robin Gomes
In his first speech on North Macedonian soil on Tuesday, Pope Francis encouraged the West Balkan state in its effort to be a beacon of peace, acceptance and fruitful integration between cultures, religions and peoples.
Addressing the nation’s authorities, the diplomatic corps and representatives of civil society at the presidential palace in capital, Skopje, the Pope described the land as a bridge between East and West and a meeting-point for numerous cultural currents. With a Christian presence that dates back to the apostolic times, the country also bears elegant testimonies of its Byzantine and Ottoman past.
But what is more precious, he pointed out, is the “multiethnic and multi-religious countenance” of the people, the legacy of a rich and complex history of relationships forged over the course of centuries.
Diversity, reciprocal respect, coexistence
“This crucible of cultures and ethnic and religious identities,” the Pope said, “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.”
The Holy Father noted that 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. This beauty, the Pope said, will become more evident if they pass it on and plant it in the hearts of the next generation.
the Pope said that efforts to enable the diverse religious expressions and the different ethnic groups of the country to find a common ground of understanding and respect for the human dignity, and consequently the guarantee of fundamental freedoms, will surely lead to a future of peace and prosperity.
He said that North Macedonians can thus “serve as an example and a point of reference for a serene and fraternal communal life marked by diversity and reciprocal respect.”
Pope Francis expressed appreciation for North Macedonians, who together with several international agencies are providing assistance to a large number of migrants and refugees from Middle Eastern countries, fleeing war or poverty at home, on their way to northern and western Europe.
Providing these people with security and solidarity, the Pope said, does honour to North Macedonians and speaks about their soul.
As a model, the Holy Father held up the figure of one of their “illustrious fellow-citizens”, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was born to Albanian parents in Skopje in 1910. Moved by the love of God, the Pope said, she made the love of neighbour the supreme law of her life and “pioneered a specific and radical way of devoting one’s life to the service of the abandoned, the discarded, and the poorest of the poor”.