The European itinerary for Pope Francis covers Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Pope Francis will do a stopover in the Macedonian town of Skopje, the place where Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu or Mother Teresa was born and spent the first 17 years of her life. The visit is included in the Pope’s travel plans to the European countries of Macedonia and Bulgaria from May 5 to May 7, 2019. The major part of the pontiff’s schedule includes two Bulgarian cities: Rakovski and Sofia. The Skopje visit will take place on May 7. For Bulgaria, Francis’ visit will be the second visit by a pope after his predecessor St. Pope John Paul II in 2002.
Even though another city, Kolkata (formerly named Calcutta), is inextricably linked with Mother Teresa, the Macedonian town of Skopje was the place of her birth and where she spent her adolescence until the day she received her vocation in 1928 as missionary sister. The city is the site of Mother Teresa Memorial House, the saint's former home transformed into a museum. The building welcomes visitors who want to learn about the saint. Many have come to venerate her relic since 2009.
Mother Teresa was canonized in September 2016. She became a saint for her relentless striving to serve the poor. Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu came into this world in 1910 in Skopje and died in 1997 in Kolkata. She spent almost all her life in the Indian city. Macedonia has a population of 2.1 million. The small Balkan country is majorly Orthodox Christian and has a small Catholic community. Bulgaria is also similar, with an Orthodox Christian population. The latter was the Soviet Republic and played host to St. John Paul II when he visited in 2002.
For Francis, the motto of his Bulgarian visit comes to three words: “Peace on Earth.” The words recalled St. John XXIII encyclical bearing the same name. Both Macedonian and Bulgarian church leaders have invited the pontiff to their respective countries. The Vatican confirmed the pope's visit to the two countries on December 13. As per the U.S. State Department, Catholics in Bulgaria make up about 0.8 percent of the total population. About 76 percent of the Bulgarian population belong to the Eastern Orthodox Christian sect. Muslims make up approximately 10 percent of the population. Other than these two countries, Francis will also be traveling to Morocco, Panama, and the United Arab Emirates.