In his post visit press conference, Pope Francis praised what he called deep respect for different religions which he witnessed in Macedonia, and also praised the Macedonian struggle for nationhood. Pope Francis also spoke on his twin visits, to Macedonia and Bulgaria, and declared Macedonians and Bulgarians as two separate nations – a position which is certain to cause a reaction in Bulgaria.

Macedonia had the identity and now it has come to consolidate it as a people, with small, big problems, like its name, and this we all know. Both have Christian, Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim communities. The percentage of Orthodox is very strong in both with a small amount of Muslims and even fewer Catholics, in Macedonia more so than Bulgaria. A thing I saw in both nations is the good relationship between the different faiths. In Bulgaria we saw it in the prayer for peace. This is a normal and beautiful thing for Bulgarians, because they have a good relationship, each person has the right to express his own religion and has the right to be respected. This touched me. Macedonia I was struck by a phrase the president told me: “Here there is not religious tolerance, there is respect.” They have respect. In a world like this respect is missed very much, Pope Francis told the press during his flight back to Rome.

Unlike a report from the Vatican News press office yesterday, which referred to Macedonians as “North Macedonians”, Pope Francis simply called us Macedonians and made a statement on the uniqueness of Macedonians as opposed to Bulgarians, while praising the Macedonian struggle for nationhood and drawing on to the Biblical references on Macedonia.

They are two totally diverse nations. Bulgaria is a nation of a tradition from centuries ago. Macedonia, on the other hand, has a tradition from centuries, but not as a country: as a people, that ultimately rose to form as a nation… It is a beautiful fight! For us Christians Macedonia is a symbol of the entrance of Christianity in the East. Christianity entered in the East through you all.. those Macedonians that appeared to Paul in a dream: “come to us, come to us.” He was leaving for Asia, it is a mystery that call… And the Macedonian people are proud of this, they do not lose the opportunity to say that Christianity entered Europe through us, through our door, because Paul was called by a Macedonian, the Pontiff added.

Regarding the decades long attempts to get the Eastern Orthodox churches to recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church as independent and equal to them, the Pope praised all involved Patriarchs, but noted that he, and them, are all their defects.