Pope Francis on May 7, 2019, met with civil and government authorities, as well as the diplomatic corps at the Mosaique Hall of the Presidential Palace in Skopje, North Macedonia.
In his speech for the occasion Dr. Gjorge Ivanov, President of North Macedonia, noted that the Holy Father’s visit takes place on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Macedonia and the Holy See.
“In our era of consumerism, corporatism, and post-humanism, You remind us that there are things that have value, but no price.,” the president said. “The sanctity of human life, the integrity of the human person, the dignity of diversity.
“You motivate us to consider not only our immediate needs but also the needs of others. To make room for others in our lives and in our communities. To overcome all family misunderstandings with love. You open our eyes to the indispensable role of women.”
The president’s full remarks, provided by the Vatican
Distinguished Eminences and Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor and pleasure as President of the Republic of Macedonia, to wish the warmest welcome to His Holiness Pope Francis on behalf of the Macedonian citizens. Symbolically, this historic visit takes place on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Macedonia and the Holy See. We are grateful for the continuous support toward our European integration and, in general, the progress of our country. The excellent bilateral relations build upon the profound and centuries-old trust and respect of the Macedonian people for the Holy See.
Your apostolic visit to the Republic of Macedonia is full of symbolism. However, there is a problem here. For the modern person, the symbol is void of essence. Freedom, equality, justice, human rights are symbols which inspired generations in their fight against slavery, poverty, injustice, and destruction. Today, these words began to lose meaning. And when words and symbols lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.
Nevertheless, in Christianity, the symbol is not only a vivid depiction of essence, but a vessel that contains the very same essence it represents. The original meaning of the symbol is recognizing and connecting two parts of a single entirety which even though they were separated for a long time, they still fit together. The Epistle to Diognet speaks of the nature of the symbol: “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. […] They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. […] They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.” The Christians are distinguished and connected through the Eucharist as a symbol of the broken body of Christ. And You, Your Holiness, are one of the symbols of that unity.
In our era of consumerism, corporatism, and post-humanism, You remind us that there are things that have value, but no price. The sanctity of human life, the integrity of the human person, the dignity of diversity.
You motivate us to consider not only our immediate needs but also the needs of others. To make room for others in our lives and in our communities. To overcome all family misunderstandings with love. You open our eyes to the indispensable role of women.
In light of these actions, you have become an inspiration to millions of people around the world. But how is that possible in a time wherein countless political declarations these symbols are reduced to empty phrases?
On account of Your actions, we recognize the essence of symbols. With You, words match the deeds and the deeds match the true needs of humanity.
Therefore, I am convinced that Your efforts toward peace and unity, equality and social justice, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, sustainable development and rule of law make a profound difference because they are the symbol of the restored world.
I complete my mandate as President by welcoming You to the Republic of Macedonia. I have to admit that I was greatly tempted to use your presence and the spotlight of the world media to speak the best of my country and my people. I could look back on the mission of St. Paul the Apostle to Macedonia who paved the way for Christianity in Europe. Or, on the mission of St. Cyril and Methodius, St. Clement and Naum of Ohrid who contributed to the cultural and spiritual elevation of the Slavic peoples. I could point out the six-century-long peaceful experience with Islam which positively shaped the Macedonian model of coexistence and respect for diversity. Let us not forget that the most famous daughter of this coexistence became the mother of the 20th century – St. Mother Teresa.
The temptation to speak of the glorious past is great. However, I believe that it is much more important to speak of the uncertain present, regardless of how difficult it is. And the truth is that You come in 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. The decades of blockades on our European path led to political and moral crises which diminished our spiritual immunity and eroded the true and lasting values. 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.
Only spiritually transformed people can transform the spirit of society. Nevertheless, this requires a person with significant moral authority who will speak to the soul of the nation. I am deeply convinced that the Macedonian citizens, Christians, Muslims, Jews or atheists, recognize Your Holiness as such a person. Many young leaders from my leadership school turn to You as the most inspiring leader.
Therefore, symbolically, as a Macedonian, I asked you to come to Macedonia and help us in the spiritual renewal of our fatherland.
Even though I am an Orthodox Christian, as President of a secular country, I represent all citizens, regardless of their religious and ideological beliefs and their ethnic and linguistic identity.
You, as head of the Catholic Church, represent the God-man Jesus Christ to more than a billion Catholic Christians in the world. At the Last Supper, the One, aware of the terrible suffering that laid ahead, fully knowing that He has all the power in His hands, got up from the table and humbly washed the feet of his disciples.
In the past several years the world is watching in awe and disbelief how You symbolically repeat the very same act. You bow to wash the feet of the sick and the poor, the prisoners and the refugees, of the hungry and the thirsty, of the outcasts and the marginalized disregarding whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist… I believe that your actions are not just another depleted symbol. On the contrary. You remind us that although our human love toward God and people is changeable, God’s love and faithfulness toward us human beings is permanent. With this, You symbolize the path of love, mercy, humility, and service. A path which we, here in the Republic of Macedonia, should also follow regardless of our basic believes or ideology. Only then we will leave a better future to the young people and to the yet unborn.
That is why I will finish with an appeal to all of my fellow citizens, to all people with good will and pure hearts. This goes to everyone, whether you belong to the Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant branch of Christianity, to the Muslims, Jews, and atheists. I call upon you to recognize the symbolism of this visit and with humility and forgiveness, reconciliation and unity, with responsibility and respect, to take part in the spiritual renewal of Macedonia, before it is too late.