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The Latest: Pope hears from married Eastern rite priest

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis' visit to North Macedonia (all times local): 6 p.m. An Eastern rite Catholic priest has told Pope Francis during a visit to North Macedonia that he is a better priest because he is married and has a family.

The Rev. Goce Kostov, a member of the Byzantine rite Catholic Church in Skopje, delivered one of the greetings Tuesday to Francis at the end of the pope's Balkan pilgrimage. Unlike Latin rite priests, Eastern rite Catholic priests are allowed to be married.

With his wife Gabriela by his side, Kostov said he was father to his family and his parish, and said the two complemented one another and brought each closer to the faith. The issue of mandatory celibacy for Latin rite priests is expected to be raised during an October meeting of bishops on the Amazon, where there aren't enough priests to go around.

4:35 p.m.

Two Bulgarian Orthodox Church senior leaders have publicly praised Pope Francis and his message of dialogue after one of their fellow metropolitans accused Francis of attacking Orthodoxy with his two-day visit to Bulgaria.

Metropolitan Antoniy and Metropolitan Naum of Rousse both posted positive messages about Francis' visit on their Facebook pages Tuesday. They were reacting to hard-line Metropolitan Nikolay of Plovdiv, who was quoted as saying Francis was seeking to "unite all the churches around Rome, and when the Antichrist comes, for the pope to meet him."

Metropolitan Antoniy, who had accompanied Francis into the Orthodox cathedral upon his arrival, said Francis didn't ignore differences with Orthodox, but provided all Bulgarians with an example of a "shepherd (who) goes to the flock, how he seeks and finds fallen souls, giving them an example of Christ's active love."

11:15 a.m.

North Macedonia's outgoing president Gjorge Ivanov has thanked Pope Francis for his support for the country's efforts to be fully integrated in Euro-Atlantic organizations and urged Macedonians to see the visit as an opportunity for "spiritual renewal."

Speaking to Francis and government authorities, Ivanov said after a three-decade long dispute with Greece over its name, the country is "heavily wounded by broken promises, unfulfilled expectations and faltering trust in the international community."

While the name change has paved the way for North Macedonia to begin accession talks with the European Union and enter into NATO, the country is deeply polarized between the governing Social Democrats, who support the name deal, and the opposition VMRO-DPMNE conservatives who oppose it.

He said the Pope's visit will "help us in the spiritual renewal of our fatherland."

9:55 a.m.

Pope Francis is seeking to encourage North Macedonia's integration into Europe following the resolution of its conflict with Greece over its name, saying greater European participation will benefit the entire region while showing respect for Macedonians' diversity.

In the first-ever papal visit to the country, Francis praised North Macedonia's multi-ethnic and multi-faith culture during a meeting with government authorities at the presidential palace.

He said such coexistence should be a model for others and was "highly significant for increased integration with the nations of Europe."

The country changed its name to North Macedonia in February as part of an agreement to end an almost three-decade long dispute with Greece, which blocked the former Yugoslav republic's path to membership in NATO and the EU over rights to the Macedonia name.

9:40 a.m.

Pope Francis has arrived in North Macedonia for the first-ever papal visit to the Balkan nation, seeking to encourage the recently renamed country to press ahead with efforts to integrate with European institutions.

His arrival comes in the wake of the resolution of a decades-long name dispute with Greece and the election of a pro-EU president.

After landing at Skopje's airport, Francis went by car — a typically small Volkswagen Jetta — for talks with outgoing President Gjore Ivanov. He is due to address government authorities and then pray at the memorial of perhaps North Macedonia's most famous native, Mother Teresa.

7 a.m.

North Macedonia's leaders are hoping Pope Francis will strongly encourage greater integration in European institutions following the resolution of a decades-long name dispute with Greece and the election of a pro-EU new president.

Francis arrives in North Macedonia, a small Balkan nation of about 2.1 million people, on Tuesday in the first-ever papal visit to the country. He is coming on the second and final leg of a Balkan visit that took him first to Bulgaria.

Viktor Dimovski, North Macedonia's foreign ministry state secretary, told reporters Monday that the visit was historic and comes at a crucial moment as North Macedonia seeks entry into the European Union and NATO.

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