The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to North Macedonia (all times local):
Pope Francis is seeking to encourage North Macedonia’s integration into Europe following the resolution of its conflict with Greece over its name, saying greater European participation will benefit the entire region while showing respect for Macedonians’ diversity.
In the first-ever papal visit to the country, Francis praised North Macedonia’s multi-ethnic and multi-faith culture during a meeting with government authorities at the presidential palace.
He said such coexistence should be a model for others and was “highly significant for increased integration with the nations of Europe.”
The country changed its name to North Macedonia in February as part of an agreement to end an almost three-decade long dispute with Greece, which blocked the former Yugoslav republic’s path to membership in NATO and the EU over rights to the Macedonia name.
Pope Francis has arrived in North Macedonia for the first-ever papal visit to the Balkan nation, seeking to encourage the recently renamed country to press ahead with efforts to integrate with European institutions.
His arrival comes in the wake of the resolution of a decades-long name dispute with Greece and the election of a pro-EU president.
After landing at Skopje’s airport, Francis went by car — a typically small Volkswagen Jetta — for talks with outgoing President Gjore Ivanov. He is due to address government authorities and then pray at the memorial of perhaps North Macedonia’s most famous native, Mother Teresa.
North Macedonia’s leaders are hoping Pope Francis will strongly encourage greater integration in European institutions following the resolution of a decades-long name dispute with Greece and the election of a pro-EU new president.
Francis arrives in North Macedonia, a small Balkan nation of about 2.1 million people, on Tuesday in the first-ever papal visit to the country. He is coming on the second and final leg of a Balkan visit that took him first to Bulgaria.
Viktor Dimovski, North Macedonia’s foreign ministry state secretary, told reporters Monday that the visit was historic and comes at a crucial moment as North Macedonia seeks entry into the European Union and NATO.