Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia are countries to which Francis is going – the papal pilgrimage is going to take place on 5-7 May 2019. The first historical visit of the Successor of St. Peter in Northern Macedonia is presented to ‘Niedziela’ by the ambassador of Republic of Poland in this country – Wojciech Tyciński. He was interviewed in Skopje by Krzysztof Tadej, a journalist of the Polish Television

KRZYSZTOF TADEJ: - How significant is the pilgrimage of pope Francis for the inhabitants of Northern Macedonia? After all, this is a country in which very few Catholics live (12 February 2019 the name of Macedonia was changed. Its new name is Republic of Northern Macedonia).

WOJCIECH TYCIŃSKI: Indeed, the Catholics in this country are a small group. According to a register from a few dozen years there is about 1 percent of them, that is, 20 thousand people. Therefore, the papal pilgrimage will not be similar to the ones which we remember, for example, from Poland, Spain or the Philippines. However, everybody emphasizes that it will be very important event. A lot is said about it in Macedonian media. Beside the religious dimension for the Macedonians the pilgrimage of Pope means confirmation of the rank and significance of their country. I can confirm that a lot of people are glad about this visit.

A domineering challenge in Northern Macedonia is Orthodox religion. The Muslims are a big group. What are relations between followers of various religion in this country like?

At present there are no stronger tensions. Division of religiousness of people in Northern Macedonia is connected with the national division to a large extent. About 65 percent Macedonians live here, of whom the majority are followers of Orthodox religion. About 25 percent of inhabitants of Macedonia are the Albanians, mostly the Muslims. A few dozen years ago there were armed fights here. However, a conflict had ethnic, not religious character. Relations among followers of various religions should be evaluated positively now.

Are there still any conflicts between the Macedonians and the Albanians?

A particularly severe Macedonian-Albanian conflict took place in March 2001. At that time the Macedonian army was fighting against the Albanian military groups. In the fights a few dozen people were killed. The Albanians were demanding more political and language rights. The conflict ended with a compromise. In August 2001 the so-called the Ohrid Agreement was signed. The Albanians were considered as the nation equal in rights to the Macedonians, received an assurance of acknowledging Albanian language as the official language in districts, in which the Albanian minority was at least 20 percent, and also employment of Albanian people in public institutions was guaranteed proportionally to the population in the country. Some of these arrangements were implemented at once, others – for example, concerning language – have been waiting till this year.
In 2001 peace was assured also by international forces, including the Polish army. Unfortunately, during one of patrols two of our soldiers were killed because of the outburst of a bomb in a trap.
Today, after years, the situation in Northern Macedonia is different. It is a peaceful, safe country in which there are no conflicts of ethnical character.

How many Poles live in Northern Macedonia?

The whole country is inhabited by about 300 – 400 people. Maybe there will be more of them soon. Recently, I have been in a commune Demir Kapija. One of the points of the visit was a meeting with Poles who decided to buy a real estate there. They are a very friendly couple of the retired people from the Lower Silesia who want to settle in Northern Macedonia for at least a few months. Maybe this is the beginning of a new process connected with the temporary settling of Poles in this country.

It is very probable because prices in Northern Macedonia are significantly lower than in Poland. What are other reasons for which it is worth visiting this country?

First of all here we meet very friendly and open people, although a lot of them, particularly outside cities, live in difficult conditions. This friendliness is particularly felt by Poles. We are really liked for many reasons, among the others, our languages are similar, we are Slovaks, we helped the Macedonians after the tragic earthquake in Skopje in 1963. Beside that Poles take the first place in a list of tourists from abroad who visit this country. For many years the first place had belonged to the Dutch but it is now when we are the biggest group here among other countries of the world. Poles are respected here and for example, institutions dealing with tourism treat our country in priority.

Is Macedonia visited by many pilgrimage groups?

We are not doing any statistics. But in Skopje St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta was born, she lived here for 18 years and that is why this place is so important for pilgrims.

Surely also for the Holy Father.

Macedonia is waiting for pope Francis. I do not conceal that his visit will be a great emotional experience for me – one of the scheduled points is a meeting of the Holy Father with diplomatic corpus. I am looking forwards to this event and Pope’s words which he is going to address to us.

Thank you for the interview.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 18/2019 (5 V 2019)

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