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3-POPE-IN-ALBANIA

Pope in Albania: ‘Don’t use religion as pretext for violence’

Pope Francis paid a prayerful and emotional visit to Albania last Sunday and spoke out against those who use religion as pretext for violence.

Despite initial safety concerns during the visit, the Holy Father was widely welcomed, with Muslims gathering in a mosque in Tirana, the capital city, to pray for the Holy Father.

During the one-day trip, the Pope’s first official visit to a European country, he celebrated Mass for an estimated 300,000 people in Tirana’s Mother Teresa Square, named after the sister and missionary who was of Albanian descent. Around 15 per cent of Albanians are Catholic, and the Faithful from across the country and beyond travelled to the capital for the Mass, holding up homemade signs and shouting ‘Long live Pope Francis.’

News reports at the end of last month suggested the Pope was a possible target for Islamic State militants who have been committing atrocities against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, and the uncertainties had again been raised in the lead-up to the visit. The Vatican however has dismissed the fears, saying the Pope’s swift visit—the Holy Father did not stop the Popemobile to greet children as he often does—was due to scheduling issues and not increased security measures.

Violence such as that taking place in the Middle East was firmly condemned by the Pope in words spoken outside the Albanian presidential palace where he was welcomed by the country’s leaders.

“May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom,” the Pope said. “When the dignity of the human person is respected and his or her rights recognised and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.”

The Pope praised Albania as an aspiring example of peaceful coexistence but also reflected on the persecution of Christians during a visit to the Cathedral of Saint Paul. Pope Francis listened to the testimony of a priest who was imprisoned for 27 years by the violently anti-religious Communist regime that controlled the country from the 1940s until the early 90s. As the priest spoke about his colleagues who had been murdered, the Holy Father wept and embraced the 84-year-old.

Speaking to journalists on the plane after his Albanian visit, the Pope expanded on his knowledge of persecution in the country.

“It was a cruel period, the level of cruelty was terrible,” he said. “When I saw [the posters of those killed during the Communist period], not only Catholics, but also Orthodox and Muslims… this happened because they said they believe in God. Each of the three communities have given a witness to God and now bear witness to their fraternity.”

During a meeting with Albania’s President Bujar Nishani, the Pope praised the re-establishment of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the country, as well as faith schools and churches, and recognised the importance of the young democracy.

“Today Albania is able to face these challenges in an atmosphere of freedom and stability, two realities which must be strengthened and which form the basis of hope for the future,” he said. “A democratic pluralism has been consolidated, which is now favouring economic activity.”

 

 

 

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