Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Papa in Skopje, North Macedonia: May 7, 2019


In the prior days, there has been all manner of scurrying around to hide scars and give the city a facelift for Pope Francis' visit. Buses and billboards covered with a Pope Francis graphic advertised his impending visit. Foreign Nationals and Macedonians could apply for tickets to be within the barricaded sections closer to the pope. When I checked the website www.papa.mk, it was already too late for Foreign Nationals to apply for tickets.

Less than 1% of the population of North Macedonia are Catholic.


Some of the partially constructed buildings crowding Macedonia Square were draped with white fabrics. Even the fountain under the Warrior Who Cannot be Named was uncovered and cleaned.



To gain a flat space for guest seating, the Dancing Fountain was removed and large steel panels were installed in its place. Rows of necessary portable toilets were set up around the square's perimeter.


 Almost everyday it has rained in Skopje, and the day before the visit was no exception.



Finally, the barricades were all in place around the city streets, the square and also along the pedestrian street to Mother Teresa's Memorial House and all the way to the City Museum.

On the big day, I woke to the sound of a couple of police radios just outside our apartment. At 6:00 in the morning, police officers were already stationed in our neighborhood and roads were blocked to traffic. Dan and I walked to Macedonia Square arriving around 9am. Persons holding tickets were already lined up to clear security. With no tickets, Dan and I found a couple of seats inside London-Trend Restaurant. London-Trend is right on the square and our seats allowed us to see the stage and the square in warm comfort while sipping hot chocolate.

Waiting for Papa (Macedonian for Pope) 
Pope Francis appears
Prior to leading mass at the square, Pope Francis had a meeting with church and government officials at the nearby Government Building. Next he visited Mother Teresa's Memorial House and met with ticketed spectators. And, at last, he stepped into the open "golf cart" and was motored up the Pedestrian Street to Macedonia Square. London-Trend Restaurant turned their TVs to local stations covering the event so even though we were quite far from the stage, we could watch the event unfold.

Back at our apartment, I continued to watch TV for Pope Francis' movement throughout the city. Just before 1:00 pm it looked like he was about to arrive at the nearby Roman Catholic Church, I grabbed my camera and joined the crowds around the traffic circle in front of the church.



Last minute tidying up
Napping outside the medical tent
Around 1:45 pm I heard a policeman tell a woman with a child that nothing would happen until about 3:00. Actually, I have no idea what he said but I heard "three" in Macedonian. They left and I left. Back again at 3:20 there were more people, but no Pope.


After all that waiting and expecting the Pope to enter the front of the church, his motorcade of VW vehicles entered the traffic circle and continued straight onto a side street to enter at the back of the church.

3:36 pm Pope Francis arrives
Pope Francis and his motorcade arrived at 3:36 pm. I could see him in his car only because he was wearing white robes. Frozen to the bone, I walked back to our apartment. When Dan came home from work, we walked back to the traffic circle.

Free-range dogs taking advantage of no cars around the traffic circle
Since the Pope sat on the right side of the car on the way in, we stationed ourselves so we would have a better view on his way out.

5:42 pm, Pope Francis's motorcade departs 
The Pope Wave
It was cold and windy all day, but we saw the Papal wave at close range. It was a big day for us and a big day for North Macedonia.