Last Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about his Apostolic Journey to Albania on September 21. He stated first why he wished to visit this country, highlighting the Albanians ability to peacefully co-exist in a nation with two strong religious factions.
This visit was born of my desire to go to a country which, after long being oppressed by an atheist and inhuman regime, is living the experience of peaceful coexistence among the country’s different religious components. I felt it was important to encourage it on this path, that it may continue with tenacity to evaluate all the implications for the benefit of the common good. For this reason the Journey had at its centre an interreligious meeting where I was able to observe, with great satisfaction, that the peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic. They are putting it into practice! This entails an authentic and fruitful dialogue which spurns relativism and takes the identity of each one into account. What the various religious expressions have in common is, indeed, life’s journey, the good will to do good to one’s neighbour, without denying or diminishing their respective identity.
He also remembered the price that Albanians have paid under a Marxist regime:
Travelling along Tirana’s principal boulevard which leads from the airport to the great central square, I was able to glimpse the portraits of 40 priests assassinated during the communist dictatorship, for whom the Cause of Beatification has been opened. These are joined by hundreds of Christian and Muslim religious men and women assassinated, tortured, imprisoned and deported simply because they believed in God. There were dark years during which religious freedom was razed to the ground and belief in God was prohibited. Thousands of churches and mosques were destroyed, transformed into warehouses and cinemas which propagated the Marxist ideology. Religious books were burned and parents were prohibited from giving their children the religious names of their ancestors. The memory of these tragic events is essential for the future of a people. The memory of martyrs who resisted in faith is a guarantee for the future of Albania; because their blood was not shed in vain, but is a seed which will bear the fruit of peace and fraternal cooperation. Today, in fact, Albania is an example not only of the rebirth of the Church, but also of the peaceful coexistence of religions.
Pope Francis recalled multiple times the courage of the Albanian people, and thanked the “heroic witnesses” who survived the violence of Albania’s past and now seek to make this nation one of peace. However, while the pope was in Albania, he was sharply critical of religious extremists.
Let no one consider themselves the ‘armor’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression,” he said in the presidential palace in Tirana, responding to an address by Albanian President Bujar Nishani, who is Muslim.
“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 to the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom,” he said.
Read the pope’s entire remarks regarding his Apostolic Journey here.