“This is the first time that the Successor of the Apostle Peter has come to the Republic of North Macedonia. I am happy to do so on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Holy See, which occurred a few years after the country became independent in September 1991”. Pope Francis said this as he greeted the Macedonian people in his first address to the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps, in which he stressed the “richness” of the culture of the Macedonians, in a land which is a “bridge between East and West and a meeting-point for numerous cultural currents”. “With the elegant testimonies of its Byzantine and Ottoman past, its lofty mountain fortresses and the splendid iconostases of its ancient churches, which speak of a Christian presence dating back to apostolic times, North Macedonia reflects all the depth and richness of its millennial culture”, Pope Francis remarked, adding that “these great cultural treasures are themselves only a reflection of your more precious patrimony: the multiethnic and multi-religious countenance of your people, the legacy of a rich and, indeed, complex history of relationships forged over the course of centuries”. “This crucible of cultures and ethnic and religious identities – the Pope explained – has resulted in a peaceful and enduring coexistence in which those individual identities have found expression and developed without rejecting, dominating or discriminating against others”. Indeed, according to Pope Francis, Macedonia can serve as an “example and a point of reference for a serene and fraternal communal life marked by diversity and reciprocal respect”. Macedonians “have shown more than tolerance, they have shown respect”, he added off the cuff. “These particular features are also highly significant for increased integration with the nations of Europe”, Pope Francis argued. “It is my hope that this integration will develop in a way that is beneficial for the entire region of the Western Balkans, with unfailing respect for diversity and for fundamental rights”.