The President of Macedonia Gjorge Ivanov welcomed and met on Tuesday the Sovereign of Vatican City State, the Pope Francis, who paid an official visit to Macedonia. Ivanov thanked the Pope on the support Vatican City provides to Macedonia, and said he is very glad that the Pope’s visit occurs in the year when Macedonia and Vatican City observe the 25-year anniversary since establishing diplomatic relations. In his speech, Ivanov called for reconciliation, forgiveness and unity among the citizens of Macedonia. “Your Holiness, Your apostolic visit to the Republic of Macedonia is full of symbolism. However, there is a problem here. For the modern person, the symbol is void of essence. Freedom, equality, justice, human rights are symbols which inspired generations in their fight against slavery, poverty, injustice and destruction. Today, these words began to lose meaning. And when words and symbols lose their meaning, people lose their freedom. The temptation to speak of the glorious past is great. However, I believe that it is much more important to speak of the uncertain present, regardless of how difficult it is. And the truth is that You come in 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. The decades of blockades on our European path led to political and moral crises which diminished our spiritual immunity and eroded the true and lasting values. The cross and crescent, the church and the mosque are being misused as borders and fortresses to mark and defend some kind of imaginary territories. It seems we forget that we are all people, regardless of our belief,” Ivanov said in his speech. The Pope expressed his happiness to visit Macedonia in the year when Macedonia and Vatican City observe the 25-year anniversary since establishing diplomatic relations, defining the country as a bridge between the East and the West and a cross-road where numerous different cultures meet. “Diversity and reciprocal respect were the very features he believed to be most important for the nation to integrate into Europe. 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,” Pope Francis said. He also acknowledged the philanthropic efforts made by authorities, international agencies, and NGOs who helped migrants and refugees coming from different Middle Eastern countries in 2015 and 2016. “May God protect and bless North Macedonia, preserve it in concord, and grant it prosperity and joy,” Pope Francis said in closing.