“Do not be afraid, little flock” – this motto chosen for the first ever Papal visit by Pope Francis to North Macedonia on 7th May 2019, reflects the situation of the Catholics living in the country that was once part of Yugoslavia: only about two per cent of the country’s approximately two million inhabitants are Catholic.
When compared to the 1.2 million Orthodox and more than half a million Muslims, it is truly only a little flock that feels “like a family”, according to the head of the North Macedonian section of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Magda Kaczmarek. As Kiro Stojanov, bishop of the only bishopric in North Macedonia, stressed, this makes the visit of the pope all the more important for the small number of faithful.
The Pope’s message during this one-day visit resonates with the multi-ethnic and multi-religious population of the country. Inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue and coexistence was at the centre of this visit as the Pope had series of meetings with young people from a variety of different backgrounds, with leaders from North Macedonia’s Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
Very symbolic too was the meeting with religious leaders which took place in the Memorial House of (Saint) Mother Teresa, who was born to an Albanian family in Skopje (North Macedonia); the Memorial is built on the site of the church – since destroyed – where Mother Teresa was baptised Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu.
While at the Saint’s Memorial House, Pope Francis also met with poor people who are being assisted by Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity – one more concrete example of Pope Francis’ priorities for a missionary Church rooted in acts of charity, and reaching out to the peripheries of modern society.
This visit of the Holy Father, Magda Kaczmarek believes, is not only a source of religious impetus to stabilise the faith, but also an opportunity to help create a more stable future for North Macedonia.
Last year, ACN International granted a total of 76 400 euros for projects in North Macedonia (which was still the Republic of Macedonia then), in particular for the construction and renovation of churches. A top priority at the moment is the construction of a new church in Kumanovo, the country’s second largest city. In addition, ACN provides subsistence aid for religious.