I encourage you to continue on your journey in order for your country to represent a beacon of peace, acceptance and the fruitful integration of cultures, religions and nations. By reflecting on their special identities and the vitality of their cultural and civic life, they will be able to build a common destiny through the special wealth they offer. Let the Lord protect and bless North Macedonia, preserve the unity and give her well-being and joy, said Pope Francis in his address at the presidential residence on Vodno, where he addressed the leadership of the state and the diplomatic corps.

After his arrival at Skopje airport, he headed to the Vodno residence, launching his extensive program for today.

Pope Francis said his visit was “the first time a successor of Apostle Peter to come to the Republic of North Macedonia”. He called the country a bridge between East and West, and relations between different communities an example of peaceful and fraternal coexistence.

“Your country is a bridge between East and West and a place where many cultural currents flow, where the many features of the region are united. The historical testimonies of her Byzantine and Ottoman past, the monumental fortresses in the mountains and the beautiful icons from the old churches, attests to the Christian presence from the time of the Apostles, and it expresses the rich millennial culture inherited to her. But let me say that this cultural treasure is just a mirror of your most precious and important legacy: the multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition of the character of your people, the fruit of rich history, and the complex relationships over the past years. This mixture of ethnic and religious cultures and belongings is the reason to reach a peaceful and enduring coexistence, where special identities are understood and can be expressed and developed without being denied, oppressed or discriminated against by others. Therefore, relations and situations amongst communities, from this aspect, can be an example of peaceful and fraternal coexistence. Through differences and mutual respect”, said the head of the Catholic Church.

He expressed hope that European integration will develop positively for the entire Western Balkan region and that together with integration and respect for diversity, fundamental rights will also develop.

Pope Francis said that Macedonia has made a truly generous gesture while caring for migrants and said that it is good that solidarity continues to exist.

“I would also like to emphasize the generous effort your republic made- whether it be though state organs or through the kind contributions of various international organizations such as the Red Cross, Caritas Internationalis and other non-governmental organizations – to receive and secure a large influx of migrants and refugees from various Middle Eastern countries. They flee from war or extreme conditions of poverty, often caused by serious military moments. Consequently, in 2015 and 2016, they crossed your border, most of them targeting northern and western parts of Europe, and they found you to be a hospitable refuge. The timely solidarity offered to those who had the greatest need for it, speaks volumes about the soul of this people, I congratulate you, because apart from their home, work and homeland they lost, they also lost loved ones, who knows what it is like to suffer such loss, but through solidarity and sharing we can find the way out and the path to any essential development. I hope you will preserve that solidarity which is necessary in this unpredictable critical moment in favor of every act of voluntary humanitarian work”, said the Pope, finishing his speech with a blessing: “May God watch over you and bless North Macedonia, preserve harmony and give prosperity and joy.”

President Gjorge Ivanov, greeting the high visitor, talked about a divided society in Macedonia and a shattered confidence in the international community, as well as distortion of real values, and the abuse of religions.

“I must admit that I was very tempted to use your presence and focus on the world’s media to speak the best about my country and my people. The temptation to talk about the glorious past is great. However, I believe it’s more important to talk about the uncertain present, however hard it may be. And the truth is that you come at a time when Macedonian society is deeply divided, and the Macedonian state is badly wounded because of broken promises, betrayed expectations and shattered confidence in the international community. The decades of blockades on our European path led to a political and moral crises that diminished our spiritual immunity and eroded any real and lasting values. The cross and the crescent, the church and the mosque are abused as boundary markers and fortresses for marking and defending some imagined territories. It is as if we have forgotten that we are all people, regardless of our faith”, said Ivanov, saying that therefore he invited the pope to come “to Macedonia and help us with the spiritual restoration of our homeland”.

Newly elected President Stevo Pendarovski was also present at the reception.

The Pope held a separate meeting with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his family, while in the government delegation were ministers Radmila Sekerinska, Oliver Spasovski, Bujar Osmani and Nikola Dimitrov.