human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas Macedonia’s role at Pope Francis’ visit

Staff and volunteers worked at historic event

His Holiness Pope Francis visited Skopje in what was the first ever visit of a Catholic pope to the Republic of North Macedonia, and Caritas Macedonia was one of the main organisers of this historic event. On 7 May, the Caritas volunteers facilitated this unique experience and were essential for the smooth order of events in this South-East-European country where the majority of the population is of Orthodox and Muslim faith.

Pope Francis − arriving from a previous visit in Bulgaria − held a mass in the centre of Skopje, the capital, attended by several thousand Catholics and other Macedonians, pilgrims and foreign visitors. In the afternoon, the pope held an ecumenical and interreligious meeting with young people in the Catholic Church of Skopje, and met afterwards with priests and their families.

This major event was a great opportunity for Caritas Macedonia to establish new partnerships in volunteer management. Caritas Macedonia collaborated with the Macedonian Red Cross, the Faculty of Orthodox Theology and the University American College Skopje (UACS) through the Committee for the preparation of the Pope’s visit with the Ministry of the Interior. The Centre for Youth “Ivana Pavao II” in Sarajevo also provided important support to Caritas. We talked with Dolores Poletto, from Caritas Macedonia, about the Caritas role in organising this visit.

How did the collaboration between Caritas and the other organisations take place?
This was our first experience managing volunteers for such an important. Our local bishop, Msgr. Kiro Stojanov, encouraged us to participate and to work with others. We started by visiting potential partners. What was common to all encounters and collaborations was the joy and willingness to contribute together to this historic event.

What exactly was the role of the volunteers in this event?
During the Pope’s visit, the volunteers were first of all available for assistance to pilgrims in the events with the most attendance, these where: on Macedonia Square in the centre of Skopje, where the Holy Mass was held by Pope Francis; in the yard of the Catholic Church for the meeting with youth; and near the Memorial House of Mother Teresa for the meeting with poor people. This in collaboration with Red Cross volunteers, in particular, many of whom have paramedical certificates and were present to provide first aid. This was luckily not much needed. The Red Cross also made its vehicle and field tents with the necessary first aid material available. Other volunteers were stationed in the square and directed pilgrims to their sectors, distributed water bottles, guides, caps, etc. After the event, they helped to collect the waste. During the interreligious and ecumenical meeting in the afternoon, the volunteers animated a programme for young people.

Many activities also took place before the visit, such as the procurement and preparation of materials, the distribution of the tickets in Skopje and other cities and parishes of Macedonia, the registrations and preparation of tickets for groups from abroad, the organisation of accommodation for pilgrims, and the reception of some guests.

How many volunteers did you work with?
About 180 volunteers were directly involved on the day of the visit. In the preparatory phase, there were 30 more volunteers involved.

How long in advance did the preparations take place?
Preparations for volunteering started in mid-March, so less than two months before. We held several preparatory meetings and started many activities; and while working together new ideas emerged. At one of the preparatory meetings, for example, someone suggested that Pope Francis could be welcomed with a joint choreography during the interreligious and ecumenical meeting with young people. On the next encounter someone brought his friend, the choreographer. The song “This World” from Toše Proeski, a musician that can almost be considered a symbol of Macedonia, was chosen for the choreography as it is very much associated with the message that the Pope sent to the young people at this meeting.

What was the feedback from the volunteers?
They were grateful and fulfilled after this joyful for experience. We were told things such as “I want to continue this experience!” and “When will be the next occasion?”.
Is the collaboration with other organisations going to continue?
We believe that the cooperation will continue. Good contacts were established and my impression is that there is a desire to continue working together, on an individual and an organisational levels.

What else did Caritas take away from this experience?
Many technical skills related to the organisation of such an event. We are aware of the disadvantages as well, but there remains a strong experience of teamwork, cooperation, openness to all goodwill. In Pope Francis’ messages during his visit to our country, we found the confirmation of our experience and the encouragement to continue.

More about Caritas Macedonia

Despite being small compared to other religious communities in the country, the Macedonian Catholic community is very active and this is also reflected in Caritas’ work.

Caritas Macedonia provides different types of support to people in need throughout the country. In a transit centre on the Serbian border, Caritas is contributing to the food support of migrants. In the municipality of Šuto Orizari, near Skopje, Caritas employees are strongly engaged in strengthening the education of Roma children who often face various obstaclesto succeed in school. In addition, Caritas is continuously supporting the many people in distress who knock on its door because they suffer from hunger.