SKOPJE – After a brief, whirlwind trip to Skopje, Pope Francis issued a summons to young people and consecrated, telling them to look to Mother Teresa as an example to keep dreaming, and of how big things can come in small packages.
Speaking to young people from different faith traditions during his day-trip to North Macedonia May 7, the pope said one of the biggest challenges many people, and young people in particular, face in modern society “is that they have lost their ability to dream.”
He said people generally “don’t dream, either much or little,” meaning that empty space “gets filled with complaints and a sense of hopelessness.”
Pointing to Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje, he said she probably “could not have imagined where her life would have ended up. Yet she kept dreaming and tried to see the face of Jesus, her great love, in all those people on the sides of the road.”
“She dreamed in a big way, and this is why she also loved in a big way…She wanted to be ‘a pencil in the hands of God,’” which was a dream she offered to God and sacrificed for, but “she never gave it up. And God began to write new and amazing pages of history with that pencil.”
“Each of you is called, like Mother Teresa, to work with your hands, to take life seriously and make something beautiful of it,” he said to the youth, adding, “let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of our dreams.”
Francis’s visit to Skopje concludes a 3-day trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia, marking the first time a pope has visited the latter. Following his meeting with young people, the pope will meet with priests and religious in North Macedonia before heading back to Rome.
North Macedonia is a majority Orthodox nation, where just one percent of the population of two million are Catholic. The diocese of Skopje is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Vrhbosna-Sarajevo, which is overseen by Cardinal Vinko Puljic.
The young people who attended the event belonged to religious communities, including the Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim faiths. Three of them spoke to the pope about their dreams and aspirations, their desire to have adventures, and the need for community in facing modern challenges.
One of the youths was Muslim, one Catholic, and the couple, Dragan and Marija, are in a mixed faith marriage, one being Catholic and the other Orthodox.
Francis recalled his visit to Abu Dhabi during his Feb. 3-5 visit to the United Arab Emirates, during which he and Egypt’s Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad el-Tayeb, signed a “Human Fraternity” document pledging as religious leaders to work together to reject violence and radicalism. It was also signed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE.
“I had a dream much like yours,” Francis said, speaking to Liridona, which he said was “to make a commitment and sign a document that says that faith must lead us believers to see other persons as our brothers and sisters.”
“As brothers and sisters that we need to support and love, without letting ourselves be manipulated by petty interests. We can have dreams at every age…So keep dreaming and dream big!” he said.
He also spoke of the need for community in facing the challenges of today’s society, saying “no one can live the life of faith or realize his or her dreams alone, without leaving home, without being part of a community.”
Francis spoke from his own experience, saying the best lesson he has learned is how to talk to other people “face-to-face.”
“We have entered into the digital age, but actually we know very little about communication. We are all ‘connected,’ but not really ‘involved’ with one another,” he said, adding that to get involved “requires life; it calls for being there and sharing the good times but also the not so good times.”
In his last encounter of the day, Francis met with religious and priests from both the Latin and Byzantine rites and their families. During the encounter, he also heard testimonies from three of the participants; a Byzantine priest and his family, a Latin-rite priest, and a religious.
Francis said he was grateful for the meeting, “in which I can see the Church breathing fully with both her lungs – the Latin rite and the Byzantine rite – and taking in the ever new and renewing air of the Holy Spirit. Two lungs that are necessary and complementary, that help us better to taste the beauty of the Lord.”
Responding to concerns about the small size of the North Macedonian church, he encouraged the small Catholic flock not to focus on their numbers and the resources they lack, saying that “taking stock” of things can lead them “into the temptation of putting too much trust in ourselves, falling back on our own abilities and our shortcomings.”
This is only helpful, he said, “when it can help us to understand and draw near to all those persons who daily struggle to make ends meet,” and when it “enables us once more to become fraternal and attentive to others.”
Pointing to Mother Teresa as an example of “how one small person, anointed by the Lord, could permeate everything,” he said the courage of her faith “could make even the most forgotten in our midst realize that they are not forgotten by God.”
“All too often we let ourselves think that things might be different if we were strong, powerful and influential,” however, “the secret of our strength, power and influence, and even of our youthfulness, comes from somewhere else,” he said.