SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Pope Francis went to the tiny Balkan nation of North Macedonia to pay tribute to a tiny saint who accomplished big things: St. Teresa of Kolkata.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Ganxhe Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in Skopje Aug. 26, 1910, so after paying the obligatory formal visit to North Macedonia’s president, Pope Francis went May 7 to the memorial and museum built on the site of the church where she was baptized. The church was later destroyed in an earthquake.
“Moved by the love of God,” the pope told the president, Mother Teresa “made love of neighbor the supreme law of her life.”
Celebrating Mass in the nearby Macedonia Square, Pope Francis drew people’s attention to human hungers — the hunger for bread, but also the hunger for truth, God and love.
“How well Mother Teresa knew all this and desired to build her life on the twin pillars of Jesus incarnate in the Eucharist and Jesus incarnate in the poor,” he said.
Too many people, he said, “have become accustomed to eating the stale bread of disinformation,” and so they end up being prisoners of a worldview that makes them either indifferent to others or downright hostile.
Think of Mother Teresa, the pope told the young people. She could not have imagined what her life would become, but “she kept dreaming and tried to see the face of Jesus, her great love, in all those people on the sides of the road” in Kolkata. “She dreamed in a big way, and this is why she also loved in a big way.”
Mother Teresa liked to call herself “a pencil in the hands of God,” he said, and when she gave God control of her life, He “began to write new and amazing pages of history with that pencil.”
“Each of you is called, like Mother Teresa, to work with your hands, to take life seriously and make something beautiful of it,” the pope told them.
Don’t let differences divide
In the capital, Skpopje, Gjorge Ivanov, ending his term as president, told the pope May 7, “You come at 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.”
Speaking in the Mosaic Hall of the presidential palace, Pope Francis said the country’s Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians, its Muslims and its Jews and its people with Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian and Croatian heritage “have created a mosaic in which every piece is essential for the uniqueness and beauty of the whole.”
“Every effort made to enable the diverse religious expressions and the different ethnic groups to find a common ground of understanding and respect for the dignity of every human person, and consequently the guarantee of fundamental freedoms, will surely prove fruitful,” the pope said.
Earlier in Sofia, Bulgaria, on the day Bulgarian Orthodox celebrate as “St. Thomas Sunday” and read the Gospel about the apostle asking to touch the wounds of the risen Lord, Pope Francis said the divisions within Christianity are “painful lacerations on the body of Christ, which is the Church.”
Immediately after meeting Bulgaria’s prime minister and president May 5, Pope Francis went to the Palace of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for a meeting with Patriarch Neophyte and top bishops.
Speaking of St. Thomas and the wounds of Jesus, Pope Francis prayed that Catholics and Orthodox, like the apostle, would “touch those wounds, confess that Jesus is risen and proclaim Him our lord and our God.”
Patriarch Neophyte welcomed Pope Francis with kisses on each cheek and the greeting, “Christos vozkrese” (Christ is risen). According to reporters present, the pope kissed the patriarch’s “engolpion” — an icon on a chain worn instead of a pectoral cross.
Crossroads of cultures
In a country that has seen many of its citizens emigrate in search of work and a better life, Pope Francis asked Bulgarians to be welcoming of and sympathetic to the migrants and refugees who arrive in their country hoping to get to Western Europe.
Strengthening Bulgaria’s traditional role as “a bridge between East and West” and a place where different religions and cultures meet in peace also could be the key to “economic and civil development” for the nation, the pope told Bulgarian leaders May 5.
Jesus alive in the Eucharist
In the Catholic heart of Bulgaria, Pope Francis celebrated a special Mass for 245 children receiving their first Communion and thanked them for helping him, their parents and grandparents remember their own first Communion.
“Today you have made it possible for us to relive that joy and to celebrate Jesus, present in the bread of life,” the pope told the children May 6 in Rakovski’s Church of the Sacred Heart.
While only about 1 percent of Bulgaria’s population is Catholic, in Rakovski the vast majority of the city’s 27,000 people are Catholic.
After he read his prepared homily, Pope Francis focused on the first communicants, dressed in white robes and seated in the front rows.
“Are you happy to receive your first Communion?” he asked them. “Yes,” the braver ones said out loud. “Are you sure?” the pope asked. “Yes!” they all shouted.