Visit to Albania September 2014

 

General Audience: On the Trip to Albania
"Peaceful and fruitful coexistence among persons and communities belonging to different religions is not only something to hope for but concretely possible and practicable"

VATICAN CITY, September 24, 2014  - Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave this morning during the general audience.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.

Today I would like to speak about the Apostolic Journey I made to Albania last Sunday. I do so, first of all, as an act of thanksgiving to God, who enabled me to carry out this visit to show even visibly and tangibly, my closeness and that of the whole Church to this people. Then I wish to renew my fraternal gratitude to the Albanian episcopate, to the priests and to the men and women religious who work with such commitment. My grateful thoughts go also to the authorities, who received me with such courtesy, as well as to all those who cooperated in the realization of the visit.

The visit was born from my desire to go to a country that, after being long oppressed by an atheist and inhuman regime, is living an experience of peaceful coexistence among its diverse religious components. It seemed important to me to encourage them on this path, so that they continue it with tenacity and reflect more deeply on its implications for the advantage of the common good. Therefore, at the center of the trip was an inter-religious meeting where I was able to see, with great satisfaction, that the peaceful and fruitful coexistence among persons and communities belonging to different religions is not only something to hope for but concretely possible and practicable. They live it! It is a genuine and fruitful dialogue that flees from relativism and is aware of each one’s identity. In fact, what brings together the various religious expressions is the path of life, the good will to do good to one’s neighbour, not denying or diminishing their respective identities.

The meeting with priests, consecrated persons, seminarians and lay Movements was the occasion to remember gratefully, with accents of particular emotion, the numerous martyrs of the faith. Thanks to the presence of some elderly persons who lived in their flesh the terrible persecutions, the faith re-echoed of many heroic witnesses of the past, who followed Christ to the extreme consequences. It was precisely from their profound union with Jesus, from their relationship of love with Him that their strength flowed – as for every martyr – to face the painful events that led them to martyrdom. Today also, as yesterday, the strength of the Church is not given so much by her organizational capacities or structures, although they are necessary. The Church does not find her strength there. Our strength is the love of Christ! A strength that sustains us in moments of difficulty and which inspires today’s apostolic action to offer all kindness and forgiveness, thus witnessing God’s mercy.

Traveling on the main avenue of Tirana, which leads from the airport to the large central Square, I was able to see the portraits of 40 priests murdered during the Communist dictatorship and for whom the cause of beatification is underway. They are added to the hundreds of Christian and Muslim religious murdered, tortured, imprisoned and deported just because they believed in God. Those were dark years, during which religious freedom was cut down and it was prohibited to believe in God. Thousands of churches and mosques were destroyed, transformed into stores and cinemas that propagated the Marxist ideology. Religious books were burnt and parents were prohibited from giving their children religious names of their ancestors. The memory of these tragic events is essential for the future of a people. The memory of the martyrs who endured in the faith is a guarantee for Albania’s destiny, because their blood was not shed in vain, but is a seed that will bear fruits of peace and of fraternal collaboration. Today, in fact, Albania is an example not only of the rebirth of the Church, but also of peaceful coexistence among the religions. Therefore, the martyrs are not the defeated but the winners: shining in their heroic witness is the omnipotence of God who always consoles His people, opening new ways and horizons of hope.

I entrusted this message of hope, founded on faith in Christ and on the memory of the past, to the entire Albanian population, which I saw enthusiastic and joyful in the places of meetings and celebrations, as well as on the streets of Tirana. I encouraged all to draw ever new energies from the Risen Lord, to be able to be evangelical leaven in the society and commit themselves, as already happens, in charitable and educational activities.

Once again I thank the Lord because, with this trip, He enabled me to meet a courageous and strong people, which did not let itself be broken by grief. To our brothers and sisters of Albania I renew the invitation to the courage of goodness, to build the present and the tomorrow of their country and of Europe. I entrust the fruits of my visit to Our Lady of Good Counsel, venerated in the Shrine of the same name at Scutari, that she may continue to guide the path of this martyred people. May the harsh experience of the past root it ever more in openness to our brothers, especially the weakest, and render it a protagonist of that dynamism of charity so necessary in today’s socio-cultural context. I would like us all today to greet this courageous, working people, and that it seek unity in peace.

[His greeting to English-speaking pilgrims:]

I greet the new students of the Venerable English College in Rome and I assure them of my closeness in prayer as they begin their studies for the priesthood. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, India, China, Japan, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Lord Jesus. God bless you!

[An appeal:]

My thought goes now to those countries of Africa that are suffering because of the ebola epidemic. I am close to the many persons stricken by this terrible sickness. I invite you to pray for them and for those who so tragically have lost their lives. I hope that the necessary aid of the International Community will not be lacking, to alleviate the sufferings of these brothers and sisters of ours. We pray to Our Lady for these sick brothers and sisters. [Ave Maria]

[Greeting to Italian-speaking pilgrims, and to youth, newlyweds, and ill:]

Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims: welcome!

Proclaimed Blessed last Saturday at Como was Sister Giovannina Franchi, founder of the Sisters Nurses of Our Lady of Sorrows. May her example inspire in many the desire to unite a profound spiritual life with generous service to the sick, privileging the poorest.

I am happy to receive the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Missionaries of the Faith, on the occasion of their respective General Chapters; the participants in the course of formation organized by the Center of Missionary Animation and the members of the Movement for a Better World. I greet the parish groups, especially the faithful of Palo del Colle; the Grenadiers of Sardinia; the Cassiodoro Cultural Center of Squillace and the detained of the prison of Volterra, who are observing the 25thanniversary of Saint John Paul II’s visit. I hope that this meeting will inspire all to a renewed commitment in favour of peace and solidarity with the neediest.

A thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical memorial of Pope Saint Linus. May his love of the Church, at a time of intense persecutions against Christians inspire the spiritual life of each one: let us also learn to face with courage the moments of adversity, convinced that the Lord never fails in His support and His grace to each of His children.

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English Summary of Today's General Audience
"My apostolic journey to Albania this past Sunday was meant to be a sign of my closeness, and that of the universal Church, to the Albanian people"

VATICAN CITY, September 24, 2014  - Here is the summary given in English of today's general audience.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters: My apostolic journey to Albania this past Sunday was meant to be a sign of my closeness, and that of the universal Church, to the Albanian people, who suffered for years under a godless and inhuman regime, but are now working to build a peaceful society marked by mutual respect and cooperation in the service of the common good. Particularly significant in this regard is the spirit of coexistence and dialogue between Albania’s different religious communities, all of whom endured bitter persecution for their belief in God. In my meeting with the followers of the various religions, I encouraged this important witness, which respects and builds upon the identity of each. With our Catholic brothers and sisters I honoured the heroic testimony of the many martyrs whose sufferings have brought forth fruits of spiritual rebirth and I invited Christians to be a leaven of goodness, charity and reconciliation in Albanian society. Through the prayers of Our Lady of Good Counsel, may God continue to inspire the Albanian people to build a society of justice, peace and solidarity.

I greet the new students of the Venerable English College in Rome and I assure them of my closeness in prayer as they begin their studies for the priesthood. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, India, China, Japan, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Lord Jesus. God bless you!

[Original text: English]

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Pope Francis' Address at Celebration of Vespers at the Cathedral of St. Paul
"Today, we have touched the martyrs"

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - Here is the translation of the Holy Father's words at the celebration of Vespers in the Cathedral of St. Paul this evening in Albania. The Pope departed from his prepared speech and said the following:

I had prepared several words to tell you, and I will give it to the Archbishop so that he may send you the translation once it is done. But now, I would like to tell you something else. We heard in the Reading: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (1 Cor. 1,3-4).

It is the text that the Church makes us reflect upon in today's Vespers. In these past two months, I have prepared myself for this visit, reading the history of the persecutions in Albania. And it was a shock for me: I did not know that your people suffered so much! Then, today, on the way from the airport to the square, all these photographs of the martyrs. I can see that this people still remembers its martyrs, of those who suffered so much! A people of martyrs… And today, at the start of this celebration, I have touched two of them. That which I can tell you is what they have already said, with their lives, with their simple words…they spoke about things with such simplicity…but with so much pain!

And we may ask them: "But how were you able to survive so much tribulation?" And they will say this passage that we have heard in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. It was He who consoled us!", with this simplicity. They have suffered too much. They suffered physically, psychologically even, that anguish of uncertainty: if they were going to be gunned down or not…And they lived like that, with that anguish! And the Lord consoled them… I think of Peter, imprisoned, in chains: the whole Church prayed for him. And the Lord consoled Peter, and the martyrs and these two who we have heard today, the Lord consoled them because there were people in the Church, the people of God, the holy and good old women, so many cloistered nuns who prayed for them. And this is the mystery of the Church: when the Church asks the Lord to console His people, the Lord humbly consoles, even hidden. He consoles in the depths of the heart and consoles with strength. They, I'm sure, do not brag about what they lived through because they know that it was the Lord who carried them forward. But they tell us something, right? That for us, who are called to follow the Lord up close, the only consolation comes from Him, right? Woe to us if we look for consolation elsewhere! Woe to the priests, the religious, the nuns, the novices, the consecrated when they look for consolation far from the Lord! I do not want to 'hit you over the head' (it.bastonarvi), eh? I do not want to become the executioner here, but know this well, eh? If you look for consolation somewhere else, you will not be happy! Even more so: no one will be able to console you, because your heart was not opened to the consolation of the Lord. And you will end, as the great Elijah says to the people of Israel, "limping with both legs". Praise be God the Father, God of every consolation, who consoles us in all our tribulations, so that we may also console those who find themselves in any form of affliction, with the consolation with which we ourselves have been consoled, by God. It is what these two have done, today. With humility, without pretext, without bragging, doing a service for us: consoling us. Also, they tell us "But, we are sinners". Indeed, they say to us: "Sinners, but the Lord has been with us: this is the path. Do not be discouraged!" Forgive me, if I use you today as an example, but we should all be an example for the other. But, let us go home thinking well of this: Today, we have touched the martyrs.

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Pope's Address to Interreligious Leaders of Albania
"I encourage you to maintain and develop the tradition of good relations among the various religious communities in Albania, and to be united in serving your beloved homeland."

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - Here is the translation of the Holy Father's address during a meeting with interreligious leaders at the Catholic University of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Albania today.

***

Dear Friends,

It is a great pleasure to be here at this meeting which brings together leaders of the main religious confessions present in Albania.  With deep respect I greet each one of you and the communities that you represent; and I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Archbishop Massafra for his words of introduction. It is important that you are here together: it is a sign of the dialogue which you experience daily, seeking to build among yourselves bonds of fraternity and cooperation for the good of the whole of society. Thank you for what you do.

Albania sadly witnessed the violence and tragedy that can be caused by a forced exclusion of God from personal and communal life. When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated. You know well how much pain comes from the denial of freedom of conscience and of religious freedom, and how from such a wound comes a humanity that is impoverished because it lacks hope and ideals to guide it.

The changes that have come since the 1990’s have had the positive effect, among other things, of creating the conditions for an exercise of authentic religious freedom. This has made it possible for each community to renew traditions which were never really extinguished, despite ferocious persecution. With this religious freedom has come also the possibility for every person to offer, according to their own religious convictions, a positive contribution; firstly, to the moral reconstruction of the country and then, subsequently, to the economic reconstruction.

In reality, as John Paul II stated during his historic visit to Albania in 1993, “Religious freedom […] is not only a precious gift from the Lord for those who have faith: it is a gift for each person, because it is the basic guarantee of every other expression of freedom […]. Only faith reminds us that, if we have one Creator, we are therefore all brothers and sisters. Religious freedom is a safeguard against all forms of totalitarianism and contributes decisively to human fraternity” (Message to the Albanian People, 25 April 1993).

He immediately then added, “True religious freedom shuns the temptation to intolerance and sectarianism, and promotes attitudes of respect and constructive dialogue” (ibid.).  We cannot deny that intolerance towards those with different religious convictions is a particularly insidious enemy, one which today is being witnessed in various areas around the world.  As believers we must be particularly vigilant so that, in living out with conviction our religious and ethical code, we may always express the mystery we intend to honor. This means that all those forms which present a distorted use of religion, must be firmly refuted as false since they are unworthy of God or humanity. Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence! No one must use the name of God to commit violence!   To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman.

Seen in this light, religious freedom is not a right which can be guaranteed solely by existing legislation, although laws are necessary. Rather religious freedom is a shared space, an atmosphere of respect and cooperation that must be built with everyone’s participation, even those who have no religious convictions. Allow me to outline two attitudes which can be especially helpful in the advancement of this fundamental freedom.

The first attitude is that of regarding every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions, not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters. When a person is secure of his or her own beliefs, there is no need to impose or put pressure on others: there is a conviction that truth has its own power of attraction. Deep down, we are all pilgrims on this earth, and on this pilgrim journey, as we yearn for truth and eternity, we do not live autonomous and self-sufficient individual lives; the same applies to religious, cultural and national communities. We need each other, and are entrusted to each other’s care. Each religious tradition, from within, must be able to take account of others.

The second attitude which fosters the promotion of religious freedom is the work done in service of the common good.  Whenever adherence to a specific religious tradition gives birth to service that shows conviction, generosity and concern for the whole of society without making distinctions, then there too exists an authentic and mature living out of religious freedom. This presents itself not only as a space in which to legitimately defend one’s autonomy, but also as a potential that enriches the human family as it advances. The more men and women are at the service of others, the greater their freedom!

Let us look around us: there are so many poor and needy people, so many societies that try to find a more inclusive way of social justice and path of economic development! How great is the need for the human heart to be firmly fixed on the deepest meaning of experiences in life and rooted in a rediscovery of hope! Men and women, inspired in these areas by the values of their respective religious traditions, can offer an important, and even unique, contribution. This is truly a fertile land offering much fruit, also in the field of interreligious dialogue.

And then there is always this ghost of "everything is relative"; relativism. There is one clear principle: there can be no dialogue if it does not come from one's own identity. Without identity, dialogue cannot exist. It would be a phantom dialogue, a dialogue "in the air", it does not work. Each one of us has our own religious identity, and we are faithful to it. But the Lord knows where he is carrying this history toward. Let us move towards from our own identity. Not to make believe that there is one. That does not work, it does not help. That is relativism! That which brings us together is the path of life. It is the good will to do good for the brothers and sisters. And as brothers, we go forward together. And each one of us offers the witness of their own identity to the other, and dialogues with the other. Then, when dialogue moves a bit forward on theological matters, that is beautiful but that which is most important is walking together without betraying one's own identity, without masking it, without hypocrisy. It does me well to think about this.

Dear friends, I encourage you to maintain and develop the tradition of good relations among the various religious communities in Albania, and to be united in serving your beloved homeland.

With a bit of a sense of humor, [this room] looks like a soccer match: the Catholics on one side and everyone else; everyone together for the good of the homeland and for humanity.

Continue to be a sign for your country, and beyond, that good relations and fruitful cooperation are truly possible among men and women of different religions.And I ask you a favor: to pray for me, because I need them, I really need them. Thank you.

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Pope Francis Greets Journalists During Flight to Albania
Wishes Them "A Good Day of Work and Not of Rest"

By Staff Reporter

ROME, September 21, 2014 - The Holy Father was accompanied by 50 journalists from 10 countries on his brief flight to Albania. During the flight, the Pope greeted each journalist one by one, wishing them "a good day of work and not of rest."

"It will be a heavy day of work, a beautiful day of labor," he added, while taking leave of them with his usual request: "Pray for me".

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, was next to the Pope, "welcoming" him on the flight on behalf of the journalists. "We are very grateful that, despite the brief flight, you would dedicate a few minutes to greet us," he said.

Fr. Lombardi presented the various media present which included the press, news agencies, television, radio and photography. "There are also many more [journalists] who have gone directly to Albania awaiting us, as well as the Albanian people who are rejoicing," he said.

The Pope then addressed the journalists present. "Thank you for your help that does so much good, so that people, the world knows what the Pope is doing, what the Church is doing, in this case, in Albania."

Albania, he continued, is "a country that has suffered very, very much. So much suffering!" However, it is also "a country that has managed to find a peace with different religions and this is a beautiful sign for the world: dialogue, peace, this balance which is in favor of governance."

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Pope's Angelus Address at Conclusion of Mass in Tirana
"I invite you to build your lives on Jesus Christ: the one who builds on Christ builds on rock, because he is always faithful, even if we sometimes lack faith"

TIRANA, September 21, 2014 - Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before concluding this celebration, I wish to greet each of you who have come from all over Albania and from nearby countries. I thank you for your presence and for the witness of your faith.

In a particular way, I wish to greet the young! They say that Albania is the most youthful country of Europe and I address you in particular. I invite you to build your lives on Jesus Christ: the one who builds on Christ builds on rock, because he is always faithful, even if we sometimes lack faith (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13). Jesus knows us better than anyone else; when we sin, he does not condemn us but rather says to us, “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

Dear young people, you are the new generation of Albania, the future of the country. With the power of the Gospel and the example of your ancestors, of your martyrs, you know how to say “No” to the idolatry of money, “No” to the false freedom of individualism, “No” to addiction and to violence; you also know how to say “Yes” to a culture of encounter and of solidarity, “Yes” to the beauty that is inseparable from the good and the true; “Yes” to a life lived with great enthusiasm and at the same time faithful in little things. In this way, you will build a better Albania and a better world in the footsteps of your ancestors and those leading Albania forward.

Let us turn to the Virgin Mary, whom you venerate above all under her title of “Our Lady of Good Counsel”. I stand before her, spiritually, at her Shrine in Scutari, so dear to you, and to her I entrust the entire Church in Albania and all the people of this country, especially families, children and the elderly, that are the living memory of the people. May Our Lady guide you to walk “together with God towards the hope that does not delude.”

Angelus Domini....

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Pope Francis' Homily at Mass in Mother Teresa Square in Tirana
"Today, the doors of Albania have been reopened and a season of new missionary vitality is growing for all of the members of the people of God"

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - Here is the text of the Holy Father's homily at today's Mass in Mother Teresa Square during his Apostolic Visit to Tirana, Albania.

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Today’s Gospel tells us that, as well as the Twelve Apostles, Jesus calls another seventy-two disciples and that he sends them to the villages and cities to announce the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 10:1-9, 17-20). He comes to bring the love of God to the world and he wishes to share it by means of communion and fraternity.   To this end he immediately forms a community of disciples, a missionary community, and he trains them how to “go out” on mission. The method is both clear and simple: the disciples visit homes and their preaching begins with a greeting which is charged with meaning: “Peace be to this house!”. It is not only a greeting, but also a gift: the gift of peace.  Being here with you today, dear brothers and sisters of Albania, in this Square dedicated to a humble and great daughter of this land, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I wish to repeat to you this greeting: May peace be in your homes! May peace reign in your hearts! Peace in your country! Peace!

In the mission of the seventy-two disciples we see a reflection of the Christian community’s missionary experience in every age: the risen and living Lord sends not only the Twelve, but the entire Church; he sends each of the baptized to announce the Gospel to all peoples. Through the ages, the message of peace brought by Jesus’ messengers has not always been accepted; at times, the doors have been closed to them. In the recent past, the doors of your country were also closed, locked by the chains of prohibitions and prescriptions of a system which denied God and impeded religious freedom. Those who were afraid of the truth and freedom did everything they could to banish God from the hearts of men and women and to exclude Christ and the Church from the history of your country, even though it was one of the first to receive the light of the Gospel. In the second reading, in fact, we heard a reference being made to Illyria, which in Paul’s time included the territory of modern-day Albania.

Recalling the decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, we can say that Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, laity and ministers of other religions paid for their fidelity with their lives.  Demonstrations of great courage and constancy in the profession of the faith are not lacking. How many Christians did not succumb when threatened, but persevered without wavering on the path they had undertaken! I stand spiritually at that wall of the cemetery of Scutari, a symbolic place of the martyrdom of Catholics before the firing squads, and with profound emotion I place the flower of my prayer and of my grateful and undying remembrance. The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel (cf. First Reading). The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.

Today, the doors of Albania have been reopened and a season of new missionary vitality is growing for all of the members of the people of God: each baptized person has his or her role to fulfil in the Church and in society.  Each one must experience the call to dedicate themselves generously to the announcing of the Gospel and to the witness of charity; called to strengthen the bonds of solidarity so as to create more just and fraternal living conditions for all.  Today, I have come to give you thanks for your witness. I have also come to encourage you to cultivate hope among yourselves and around you. Do not forget the nest. The eagle does not forget its nest, but it flies high. Fly high! Go up! I have come to involve the young generations; to nourish yourselves assiduously on the Word of God, opening your hearts to Christ, to God, to the Gospel, to the encounter with God, the encounter among yourselves as you do, and with which you give witness to all of Europe.

In the spirit of communion among bishops, priests, consecrated persons and laity, I encourage you to bring vitality to your pastoral activities, which is an action of service, and to continuously seek new ways of making the Church present in society. In particular I turn to the youth: there were so many in the street  on the way from the airport. This is a youthful country! Very youthful! And where there is youth, there is hope. Listen to God, adore God and love each other as a people and as brothers.

To the Church which is alive in this land of Albania, I say “thank you” for the example of fidelity. Do not forget the nest of your long history. Also the trials, do not forget the wounds. But do not be vindicated, go forward, fly towards the hope of a great future. So many of your sons and daughters have suffered for Christ, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. May their witness sustain your steps today and tomorrow as you journey along the way of love, of freedom, of justice and above all, on the path of peace. Amen.

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Pope Francis Arrives in "The Land of the Eagles"
Highlights Peaceful Coexistence of Religions in Albania During Welcoming Ceremony

By Junno Arocho Esteves

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - Pope Francis landed in Tirana, Albania shortly after 9 a.m., the first visit by a Pope in 21 years since St. John Paul II's trip in 1993.

As customary, before departing Rome's Fiumicino airport, the Holy Father sent a message to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

"In this moment that I prepare to depart for my Apostolic Visit to the Republic of Albania, I wish to address to you Mr. President and to all Italians my affectionate greetings and good wishes, which I accompany with every friendly and prayerful hope of peace and serenity," the Pope wrote.

Upon landing the Pope was welcomed by Prime Minister Edi Rama, Archbishop Ramiro Molines Inglés, the Apostolic Nuncio to Albania, Archbishop Rrok Mirdita, archbishop of Durrës-Tirana, and Archbishop Angelo Massafra, president of the Albanian episcopal conference. He then made his way towards the Presidential Palace in Tirana.

Thousands of Albanians packed the streets, which were lined with images of the martyrs who died during the religious persecution in the country in the 1940s.

At the presidential palace, the Pope was welcomed by President Bujar Nishani, as well as government authorities. In his first address, the Pope thanked them for inviting him to their country, which he described as a land of heroes and martyrs.

"Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom," the Pope said. "This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world."

The 77 year old Pontiff highlighted that when respect for human rights, particularly religious freedom and freedom of expression, is recognized, it furthers the common good. Albania, he continued, is an example of peaceful coexistence among followers of different religions. The Pope noted that such respect is a "precious gift" in a time where "an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized."

"This creates dangerous circumstances which lead to conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue, and for a collective reflection on what it means to believe in God and to follow his laws," he said.

"Let no one consider themselves to be the “armor” of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! 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 Holy Father went on to say that the peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths in Albania is an example to the world that such harmony is "possible and realistic". Blessed Mother Teresa and the martyrs of Albania, he said, "are rejoicing in heaven because of the work of men and women of good will who contribute to the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania."

Concluding his address, Pope Francis said that in today's climate of economic and cultural globalization, growth and development must be ensured to all and not just a select few of the population. Albania, he said, is able to face these challenges "in an atmosphere of freedom and stability."

"As Saint John Paul II did in April 1993, I invoke upon Albania the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people. May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania," he concluded.

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Pope Francis' Address at Welcoming Ceremony in Tirana
"What the experience in Albania shows, rather, is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic."

TIRANA, September 21, 2014 - Here is the translation of the Holy Father's address during the Welcoming Ceremony held at the Presidential Palace in Tirana, Albania.

***

Mr. President,

Mr. Prime Minister,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here with you, in this noble land of Albania, a land of heroes who sacrificed their lives for the independence of the nation, and a land of martyrs, who witnesses to their faith in difficult times of persecution.  I am grateful for the invitation to visit your country, called “the Land of the Eagles”, and for your warm welcome.

Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom. This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world.  This rediscovered freedom has helped you look to the future with trust and hope, establishing new projects and renewing friendly relations with countries both near and far.

Respect for human rights, respect is an essential word for you, among which religious freedom and freedom of expression stand out, is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development.  When the dignity of the human person is respected and his or her rights recognized and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.

There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions.  The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country.  This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized.  This creates dangerous circumstances which lead to conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue, and for a collective reflection on what it means to believe in God and to follow his laws.

Let no one consider using God as a shield while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! 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!

What the experience in Albania shows, rather, is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.  The peaceful coexistence of different religious communities is, in fact, an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement.  This is something of value which needs to be protected and nourished each day, by providing an education which respects differences and particular identities, so that dialogue and cooperation for the good of all may be promoted and strengthened by mutual understanding and esteem.  It is a gift which we need to implore from God in prayer. May Albania always continue to walk this path, offering to other countries an inspiring example.

Mr. President, after a winter of isolation and persecution, the springtime of freedom has finally come. By means of free elections and new institutional structures, a democratic pluralism has been consolidated which is now favoring economic activity.  Many people, especially at the beginning, chose to emigrate in search of work and a better standard of living, and in their own way   contributed to the advancement of Albanian society. Many others rediscovered reasons for staying in their homeland, wanting to build it up from within.  The efforts and sacrifices of all have improved the life of the nation in general.

The Catholic Church, for its part, has resumed a normal existence, re-establishing its hierarchy and taking up once more the line of a long tradition. Places of worship have been built or rebuilt. Among these, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Scutari holds a special place. Similarly, schools and centers of education and healthcare have been established for the use of all citizens.  The presence of the Church and its activities are therefore rightly seen as a service, not only to the Catholic community, but rather to the whole nation.

Blessed Mother Teresa, together with the martyrs who witnessed to their faith – to whom we pray and offer our appreciation – most certainly are rejoicing in heaven because of the work of men and women of good will who contribute to the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania.

Today, however, new challenges arise which must be faced.   In a world that tends to economic and cultural globalization, every effort must be made to ensure that growth and development are put at the service of all and not just limited parts of the population. Furthermore, such development will only be authentic if it is sustainable and just, that is, if it has the rights of the poor and respect for the environment close to heart. Alongside the globalization of the markets there must also be a corresponding globalization of solidarity; together with economic growth there must be a greater respect for creation; alongside the rights of individuals, there must be the guaranteed rights of those who are a bridge between the individual and the state, the family being the first and foremost of such institutions. 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.

I offer my heartfelt gratitude to each of you for your gracious welcome, and, as Saint John Paul II did in April 1993, I invoke upon Albania the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people. May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania.

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Pope's Telegram to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano

VATICAN CITY, September 21, 2014  - Here is the telegram sent by the Holy Father to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, president of the Italian Republic, before departing for Tirana, Albania.

* * *

To His Excellency

The Honorable Giorgio Napolitano

President of the Italian Republic

Quirinale Palace

00187

In this moment that I prepare to depart for my Apostolic Visit to the Republic of Albania, I wish to address to you Mr. President and to all Italians my affectionate greetings and good wishes, which I accompany with every friendly and prayerful hope of peace and serenity.

FRANCISCUS P.P.

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Pope Weeps Upon Hearing Witness of Religious Persecution in Albania
Elderly Priest and Nun Recall Sufferings During the Rule of the Communist Regime

By Staff Reporter

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - After his visit to the Catholic University of Our Lady of Good Counsel, the Holy Father made his way to the Cathedral of Saint Paul, to celebrate vespers with the priests, religious, seminarians and members of various lay movements.

Archbishop Rrok K. Mirdita, gave a welcoming address and was followed by the testimonies of an elderly priest and religious sister, witnesses of the persecution suffered under the communist regime.

Fr. Ernesto, an 84 year old diocesan priest, recalled when the Communist party came to power and began detaining and murdering priests, some he said who died saying "Long live Christ the King". He also said that his diocesan superiors were killed by firing squad.

He added that after 8 years of priesthood, he was discovered, arrested and imprisoned under inhumane conditions. "We hit because you preach Christ", he recalled them saying. When he was at the point of death, they set him free.

He also recalled a moment when a false prisoner was placed with him in order to deceive him into speaking against communism, and thus assuring his execution. He was imprisoned for 18 years and in his cell he wrote: 'Jesus is my life'. The elderly priest also served in forced labor during his imprisonment. With the fall of communism and the return of religious freedom, he now serves as pastor of a local parish.

After his witness, Fr. Ernesto approached the Holy Father and knelt, kissing his ring. The Pope, visibly moved by his testimony, wept and held the priest in a long embrace.

Sr. Maria Caleta, an Albanian nun, recalled how her pastor was imprisoned for 8 years. The priest, who was close to death, was released from prison. Upon his release, he immediately left to see his faithful but discovered that his parish no longer existed. Today, she said, the process of canonization of this priest has been opened.

Sr. Caleta belonged to Stigmatine Religious Congregation for 7 years, before the communist regime shut down their convent, forcing the nuns to flee. The religious sister recalled how she and several other local religious continued to maintain their faith despite the odds.

"Sometimes I wasn't sure if they were spying on me, but I continued to defend the faith," she said. Shortly after, the Communist began to impose forced labor in the country.

The religious sister recounted how a woman from a communist family asked her about seeking baptism for her child. Sr. Caleta said she feared that it was a trap but nonetheless, brought some water and baptized the child. During that period, she remembered her desire to go to Mass, to receive the Sacraments.

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Pope's Address to Interreligious Leaders of Albania
"I encourage you to maintain and develop the tradition of good relations among the various religious communities in Albania, and to be united in serving your beloved homeland."

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - Here is the translation of the Holy Father's address during a meeting with interreligious leaders at the Catholic University of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Albania today.

***

Dear Friends,

It is a great pleasure to be here at this meeting which brings together leaders of the main religious confessions present in Albania.  With deep respect I greet each one of you and the communities that you represent; and I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Archbishop Massafra for his words of introduction. It is important that you are here together: it is a sign of the dialogue which you experience daily, seeking to build among yourselves bonds of fraternity and cooperation for the good of the whole of society. Thank you for what you do.

Albania sadly witnessed the violence and tragedy that can be caused by a forced exclusion of God from personal and communal life. When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated. You know well how much pain comes from the denial of freedom of conscience and of religious freedom, and how from such a wound comes a humanity that is impoverished because it lacks hope and ideals to guide it.

The changes that have come since the 1990’s have had the positive effect, among other things, of creating the conditions for an exercise of authentic religious freedom. This has made it possible for each community to renew traditions which were never really extinguished, despite ferocious persecution. With this religious freedom has come also the possibility for every person to offer, according to their own religious convictions, a positive contribution; firstly, to the moral reconstruction of the country and then, subsequently, to the economic reconstruction.

In reality, as John Paul II stated during his historic visit to Albania in 1993, “Religious freedom […] is not only a precious gift from the Lord for those who have faith: it is a gift for each person, because it is the basic guarantee of every other expression of freedom […]. Only faith reminds us that, if we have one Creator, we are therefore all brothers and sisters. Religious freedom is a safeguard against all forms of totalitarianism and contributes decisively to human fraternity” (Message to the Albanian People, 25 April 1993).

He immediately then added, “True religious freedom shuns the temptation to intolerance and sectarianism, and promotes attitudes of respect and constructive dialogue” (ibid.).  We cannot deny that intolerance towards those with different religious convictions is a particularly insidious enemy, one which today is being witnessed in various areas around the world.  As believers we must be particularly vigilant so that, in living out with conviction our religious and ethical code, we may always express the mystery we intend to honor. This means that all those forms which present a distorted use of religion, must be firmly refuted as false since they are unworthy of God or humanity. Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence! No one must use the name of God to commit violence!   To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman.

Seen in this light, religious freedom is not a right which can be guaranteed solely by existing legislation, although laws are necessary. Rather religious freedom is a shared space, an atmosphere of respect and cooperation that must be built with everyone’s participation, even those who have no religious convictions. Allow me to outline two attitudes which can be especially helpful in the advancement of this fundamental freedom.

The first attitude is that of regarding every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions, not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters. When a person is secure of his or her own beliefs, there is no need to impose or put pressure on others: there is a conviction that truth has its own power of attraction. Deep down, we are all pilgrims on this earth, and on this pilgrim journey, as we yearn for truth and eternity, we do not live autonomous and self-sufficient individual lives; the same applies to religious, cultural and national communities. We need each other, and are entrusted to each other’s care. Each religious tradition, from within, must be able to take account of others.

The second attitude which fosters the promotion of religious freedom is the work done in service of the common good.  Whenever adherence to a specific religious tradition gives birth to service that shows conviction, generosity and concern for the whole of society without making distinctions, then there too exists an authentic and mature living out of religious freedom. This presents itself not only as a space in which to legitimately defend one’s autonomy, but also as a potential that enriches the human family as it advances. The more men and women are at the service of others, the greater their freedom!

Let us look around us: there are so many poor and needy people, so many societies that try to find a more inclusive way of social justice and path of economic development! How great is the need for the human heart to be firmly fixed on the deepest meaning of experiences in life and rooted in a rediscovery of hope! Men and women, inspired in these areas by the values of their respective religious traditions, can offer an important, and even unique, contribution. This is truly a fertile land offering much fruit, also in the field of interreligious dialogue.

And then there is always this ghost of "everything is relative"; relativism. There is one clear principle: there can be no dialogue if it does not come from one's own identity. Without identity, dialogue cannot exist. It would be a phantom dialogue, a dialogue "in the air", it does not work. Each one of us has our own religious identity, and we are faithful to it. But the Lord knows where he is carrying this history toward. Let us move towards from our own identity. Not to make believe that there is one. That does not work, it does not help. That is relativism! That which brings us together is the path of life. It is the good will to do good for the brothers and sisters. And as brothers, we go forward together. And each one of us offers the witness of their own identity to the other, and dialogues with the other. Then, when dialogue moves a bit forward on theological matters, that is beautiful but that which is most important is walking together without betraying one's own identity, without masking it, without hypocrisy. It does me well to think about this.

Dear friends, I encourage you to maintain and develop the tradition of good relations among the various religious communities in Albania, and to be united in serving your beloved homeland.

With a bit of a sense of humor, [this room] looks like a soccer match: the Catholics on one side and everyone else; everyone together for the good of the homeland and for humanity.

Continue to be a sign for your country, and beyond, that good relations and fruitful cooperation are truly possible among men and women of different religions.And I ask you a favor: to pray for me, because I need them, I really need them. Thank you.

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Pope Francis Greets Journalists During Flight to Albania
Wishes Them "A Good Day of Work and Not of Rest"

By Staff Reporter

ROME, September 21, 2014 - The Holy Father was accompanied by 50 journalists from 10 countries on his brief flight to Albania. During the flight, the Pope greeted each journalist one by one, wishing them "a good day of work and not of rest."

"It will be a heavy day of work, a beautiful day of labor," he added, while taking leave of them with his usual request: "Pray for me".

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, was next to the Pope, "welcoming" him on the flight on behalf of the journalists. "We are very grateful that, despite the brief flight, you would dedicate a few minutes to greet us," he said.

Fr. Lombardi presented the various media present which included the press, news agencies, television, radio and photography. "There are also many more [journalists] who have gone directly to Albania awaiting us, as well as the Albanian people who are rejoicing," he said.

The Pope then addressed the journalists present. "Thank you for your help that does so much good, so that people, the world knows what the Pope is doing, what the Church is doing, in this case, in Albania."

Albania, he continued, is "a country that has suffered very, very much. So much suffering!" However, it is also "a country that has managed to find a peace with different religions and this is a beautiful sign for the world: dialogue, peace, this balance which is in favor of governance."

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Pope's Angelus Address at Conclusion of Mass in Tirana
"I invite you to build your lives on Jesus Christ: the one who builds on Christ builds on rock, because he is always faithful, even if we sometimes lack faith"

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before concluding this celebration, I wish to greet each of you who have come from all over Albania and from nearby countries. I thank you for your presence and for the witness of your faith.

In a particular way, I wish to greet the young! They say that Albania is the most youthful country of Europe and I address you in particular. I invite you to build your lives on Jesus Christ: the one who builds on Christ builds on rock, because he is always faithful, even if we sometimes lack faith (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13). Jesus knows us better than anyone else; when we sin, he does not condemn us but rather says to us, “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

Dear young people, you are the new generation of Albania, the future of the country. With the power of the Gospel and the example of your ancestors, of your martyrs, you know how to say “No” to the idolatry of money, “No” to the false freedom of individualism, “No” to addiction and to violence; you also know how to say “Yes” to a culture of encounter and of solidarity, “Yes” to the beauty that is inseparable from the good and the true; “Yes” to a life lived with great enthusiasm and at the same time faithful in little things. In this way, you will build a better Albania and a better world in the footsteps of your ancestors and those leading Albania forward.

Let us turn to the Virgin Mary, whom you venerate above all under her title of “Our Lady of Good Counsel”. I stand before her, spiritually, at her Shrine in Scutari, so dear to you, and to her I entrust the entire Church in Albania and all the people of this country, especially families, children and the elderly, that are the living memory of the people. May Our Lady guide you to walk “together with God towards the hope that does not delude.”

Angelus Domini....

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Pope Francis' Homily at Mass in Mother Teresa Square in Tirana
"Today, the doors of Albania have been reopened and a season of new missionary vitality is growing for all of the members of the people of God"

TIRANA, September 21, 2014- Here is the text of the Holy Father's homily at today's Mass in Mother Teresa Square during his Apostolic Visit to Tirana, Albania.

***

Today’s Gospel tells us that, as well as the Twelve Apostles, Jesus calls another seventy-two disciples and that he sends them to the villages and cities to announce the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 10:1-9, 17-20). He comes to bring the love of God to the world and he wishes to share it by means of communion and fraternity.   To this end he immediately forms a community of disciples, a missionary community, and he trains them how to “go out” on mission. The method is both clear and simple: the disciples visit homes and their preaching begins with a greeting which is charged with meaning: “Peace be to this house!”. It is not only a greeting, but also a gift: the gift of peace.  Being here with you today, dear brothers and sisters of Albania, in this Square dedicated to a humble and great daughter of this land, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I wish to repeat to you this greeting: May peace be in your homes! May peace reign in your hearts! Peace in your country! Peace!

In the mission of the seventy-two disciples we see a reflection of the Christian community’s missionary experience in every age: the risen and living Lord sends not only the Twelve, but the entire Church; he sends each of the baptized to announce the Gospel to all peoples. Through the ages, the message of peace brought by Jesus’ messengers has not always been accepted; at times, the doors have been closed to them. In the recent past, the doors of your country were also closed, locked by the chains of prohibitions and prescriptions of a system which denied God and impeded religious freedom. Those who were afraid of the truth and freedom did everything they could to banish God from the hearts of men and women and to exclude Christ and the Church from the history of your country, even though it was one of the first to receive the light of the Gospel. In the second reading, in fact, we heard a reference being made to Illyria, which in Paul’s time included the territory of modern-day Albania.

Recalling the decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, we can say that Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, laity and ministers of other religions paid for their fidelity with their lives.  Demonstrations of great courage and constancy in the profession of the faith are not lacking. How many Christians did not succumb when threatened, but persevered without wavering on the path they had undertaken! I stand spiritually at that wall of the cemetery of Scutari, a symbolic place of the martyrdom of Catholics before the firing squads, and with profound emotion I place the flower of my prayer and of my grateful and undying remembrance. The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel (cf. First Reading). The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.

Today, the doors of Albania have been reopened and a season of new missionary vitality is growing for all of the members of the people of God: each baptized person has his or her role to fulfil in the Church and in society.  Each one must experience the call to dedicate themselves generously to the announcing of the Gospel and to the witness of charity; called to strengthen the bonds of solidarity so as to create more just and fraternal living conditions for all.  Today, I have come to give you thanks for your witness. I have also come to encourage you to cultivate hope among yourselves and around you. Do not forget the nest. The eagle does not forget its nest, but it flies high. Fly high! Go up! I have come to involve the young generations; to nourish yourselves assiduously on the Word of God, opening your hearts to Christ, to God, to the Gospel, to the encounter with God, the encounter among yourselves as you do, and with which you give witness to all of Europe.

In the spirit of communion among bishops, priests, consecrated persons and laity, I encourage you to bring vitality to your pastoral activities, which is an action of service, and to continuously seek new ways of making the Church present in society. In particular I turn to the youth: there were so many in the street  on the way from the airport. This is a youthful country! Very youthful! And where there is youth, there is hope. Listen to God, adore God and love each other as a people and as brothers.

To the Church which is alive in this land of Albania, I say “thank you” for the example of fidelity. Do not forget the nest of your long history. Also the trials, do not forget the wounds. But do not be vindicated, go forward, fly towards the hope of a great future. So many of your sons and daughters have suffered for Christ, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. May their witness sustain your steps today and tomorrow as you journey along the way of love, of freedom, of justice and above all, on the path of peace. Amen.

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Pope Francis Arrives in "The Land of the Eagles"
Highlights Peaceful Coexistence of Religions in Albania During Welcoming Ceremony

By Junno Arocho Esteves

TIRANA, September 21, 2014  - Pope Francis landed in Tirana, Albania shortly after 9 a.m., the first visit by a Pope in 21 years since St. John Paul II's trip in 1993.

As customary, before departing Rome's Fiumicino airport, the Holy Father sent a message to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

"In this moment that I prepare to depart for my Apostolic Visit to the Republic of Albania, I wish to address to you Mr. President and to all Italians my affectionate greetings and good wishes, which I accompany with every friendly and prayerful hope of peace and serenity," the Pope wrote.

Upon landing the Pope was welcomed by Prime Minister Edi Rama, Archbishop Ramiro Molines Inglés, the Apostolic Nuncio to Albania, Archbishop Rrok Mirdita, archbishop of Durrës-Tirana, and Archbishop Angelo Massafra, president of the Albanian episcopal conference. He then made his way towards the Presidential Palace in Tirana.

Thousands of Albanians packed the streets, which were lined with images of the martyrs who died during the religious persecution in the country in the 1940s.

At the presidential palace, the Pope was welcomed by President Bujar Nishani, as well as government authorities. In his first address, the Pope thanked them for inviting him to their country, which he described as a land of heroes and martyrs.

"Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom," the Pope said. "This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world."

The 77 year old Pontiff highlighted that when respect for human rights, particularly religious freedom and freedom of expression, is recognized, it furthers the common good. Albania, he continued, is an example of peaceful coexistence among followers of different religions. The Pope noted that such respect is a "precious gift" in a time where "an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized."

"This creates dangerous circumstances which lead to conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue, and for a collective reflection on what it means to believe in God and to follow his laws," he said.

"Let no one consider themselves to be the “armor” of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! 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 Holy Father went on to say that the peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths in Albania is an example to the world that such harmony is "possible and realistic". Blessed Mother Teresa and the martyrs of Albania, he said, "are rejoicing in heaven because of the work of men and women of good will who contribute to the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania."

Concluding his address, Pope Francis said that in today's climate of economic and cultural globalization, growth and development must be ensured to all and not just a select few of the population. Albania, he said, is able to face these challenges "in an atmosphere of freedom and stability."

"As Saint John Paul II did in April 1993, I invoke upon Albania the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people. May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania," he concluded.

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Pope Francis' Address at Welcoming Ceremony in Tirana
"What the experience in Albania shows, rather, is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic."

TIRANA, September 21, 2014 - Here is the translation of the Holy Father's address during the Welcoming Ceremony held at the Presidential Palace in Tirana, Albania.

***

Mr. President,

Mr. Prime Minister,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here with you, in this noble land of Albania, a land of heroes who sacrificed their lives for the independence of the nation, and a land of martyrs, who witnesses to their faith in difficult times of persecution.  I am grateful for the invitation to visit your country, called “the Land of the Eagles”, and for your warm welcome.

Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom. This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world.  This rediscovered freedom has helped you look to the future with trust and hope, establishing new projects and renewing friendly relations with countries both near and far.

Respect for human rights, respect is an essential word for you, among which religious freedom and freedom of expression stand out, is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development.  When the dignity of the human person is respected and his or her rights recognized and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.

There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions.  The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country.  This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized.  This creates dangerous circumstances which lead to conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue, and for a collective reflection on what it means to believe in God and to follow his laws.

Let no one consider using God as a shield while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! 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!

What the experience in Albania shows, rather, is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.  The peaceful coexistence of different religious communities is, in fact, an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement.  This is something of value which needs to be protected and nourished each day, by providing an education which respects differences and particular identities, so that dialogue and cooperation for the good of all may be promoted and strengthened by mutual understanding and esteem.  It is a gift which we need to implore from God in prayer. May Albania always continue to walk this path, offering to other countries an inspiring example.

Mr. President, after a winter of isolation and persecution, the springtime of freedom has finally come. By means of free elections and new institutional structures, a democratic pluralism has been consolidated which is now favoring economic activity.  Many people, especially at the beginning, chose to emigrate in search of work and a better standard of living, and in their own way   contributed to the advancement of Albanian society. Many others rediscovered reasons for staying in their homeland, wanting to build it up from within.  The efforts and sacrifices of all have improved the life of the nation in general.

The Catholic Church, for its part, has resumed a normal existence, re-establishing its hierarchy and taking up once more the line of a long tradition. Places of worship have been built or rebuilt. Among these, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Scutari holds a special place. Similarly, schools and centers of education and healthcare have been established for the use of all citizens.  The presence of the Church and its activities are therefore rightly seen as a service, not only to the Catholic community, but rather to the whole nation.

Blessed Mother Teresa, together with the martyrs who witnessed to their faith – to whom we pray and offer our appreciation – most certainly are rejoicing in heaven because of the work of men and women of good will who contribute to the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania.

Today, however, new challenges arise which must be faced.   In a world that tends to economic and cultural globalization, every effort must be made to ensure that growth and development are put at the service of all and not just limited parts of the population. Furthermore, such development will only be authentic if it is sustainable and just, that is, if it has the rights of the poor and respect for the environment close to heart. Alongside the globalization of the markets there must also be a corresponding globalization of solidarity; together with economic growth there must be a greater respect for creation; alongside the rights of individuals, there must be the guaranteed rights of those who are a bridge between the individual and the state, the family being the first and foremost of such institutions. 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.

I offer my heartfelt gratitude to each of you for your gracious welcome, and, as Saint John Paul II did in April 1993, I invoke upon Albania the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people. May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania.

---------------------------------------------

Pope's Telegram to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano

VATICAN CITY, September 21, 2014  - Here is the telegram sent by the Holy Father to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, president of the Italian Republic, before departing for Tirana, Albania.

* * *

To His Excellency

The Honorable Giorgio Napolitano

President of the Italian Republic

Quirinale Palace

00187

In this moment that I prepare to depart for my Apostolic Visit to the Republic of Albania, I wish to address to you Mr. President and to all Italians my affectionate greetings and good wishes, which I accompany with every friendly and prayerful hope of peace and serenity.

FRANCISCUS P.P.

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