Pope Francis will pay a brief visit to two Balkan countries on May 5. North Macedonia and Bulgaria’s populations are predominantly Orthodox while the main minority religion is Islam. Catholics in both countries represent tiny minorities.
Bulgaria was visited by the Head of the Catholic Church only once, in 2002 by Pope John Paul II while for North Macedonia will be the first visit of this kind.
But both Bulgaria and North Macedonia represent a great interest for the Church of Rome. Pope Francis declared his commitment to human and Christian treatment of the refugee and migrants since the beginning of the crisis. The two countries are key points in the migration route of the Eastern Mediterranean. Pope will visit a refugee camp in Bulgaria.
But there are historical-religious reasons as well which attract the interest of the Vatican.
Pope Francis will pray in the shrine of Cyril and Methodius and he will participate in an inter-religious act for peace in Bulgaria. In Bulgaria he will commemorate Angelo Roncalli, who was an apostolic visitor in Bulgaria between 1925 and 1934. Roncalli became Pope John XXIII.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born in North Macedonia. Pope Francis will visit the memorial dedicated to her.
The visit to North Macedonia will include a meeting with homeless people as well as a special ecumenical and inter-religious meeting with young people.