By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis was able to hit on some of the key themes of his papacy during his whirlwind, one day-visit to the country of North Macedonia.
In his first address, to leaders of civil society, Pope Francis noted North Macedonia’s position as a meeting place for various cultures and religions. In particular, he praised the country for having found “a peaceful and enduring coexistence” rooted in the “multi-ethnic and multi-religious countenance” of the people, which he called the nation’s “most precious patrimony”.
A part of that national heritage is the figure of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, known throughout the world simply as “Mother Teresa”. Pope Francis emphasized her roots in Skopje, where Mother Teresa was raised in a family and in a community, and where she learned “to love those in greatest need”. The Holy Father held her up as an example for all of us to love “the poor, the abandoned, the marginalized, and migrants” not only with words, but with concrete, effective actions.
Speaking especially to the Catholic faithful (a minority comprising less than one percent of North Macedonia’s population) Pope Francis emphasized the need to spread the message of love, hope, and unity in diversity first and foremost by their example. In his address to Catholic priests – including married Eastern Catholic priests with their families – and religious men and women, Pope Francis used the scriptural example of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with spikenard, to show how a little fragrance can fill a whole house, and illustrate how a small, but vibrant, Catholic community can inspire the life of the whole nation.
The Pope touched on the importance of roots in families, cultures, communities, in his address to a diverse group of young people. Repeating a theme dear to his heart, he encouraged them to speak to their elders, to learn their own history from them, in order to go forth into the world.
In that address, Pope Francis called on the young people to “dream big”, calling to mind once again the example of Mother Teresa, who was able to love in a big way precisely because she dreamed in a big way.
“You can never dream too much!” the Holy Father insisted. And his brief visit to North Macedonia once more shone a spotlight on Pope Francis’ “big dreams” – for the Church, and for the world.