Pope in Albania urges faithful to condemn extremism
Tirana, Albania – — Pope Francis called Sunday for Muslims and all religious leaders to condemn Islamic extremists who “pervert” religion to justify violence, as he visited Albania and held up the Balkan nation as a model for interfaith harmony for the rest of the world.
“To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman,” Francis told representatives of Albania’s Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communities during a half-day visit to Tirana in which he recalled the persecution people of all faiths suffered under communism.
Francis wept when he heard the testimony of one priest, the Rev. Ernest Troshani, 84, who for 28 years was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to forced labor for refusing to speak out against the Catholic Church as his captors wanted.
“Today I touched the martyrs,” Francis said after embracing the man.
Security was unusually tight for the pope’s first trip to a majority Muslim country since the Islamic State group began its crackdown on Christians in Iraq and announced its aim to extend its self-styled caliphate to Rome. The trip was preceded by reports that militants who trained in Iraq and Syria had returned and might pose a threat.
The Vatican insisted it had no reports of specific threats against the pope and that no special security measures were taken. But Francis’ interactions with the crowds were much reduced compared to his previous foreign trips. His open-topped vehicle sped down Tirana’s main boulevard, not stopping once for Francis to greet the faithful as is his norm.
He only kissed a few babies at the very end of the route, and then left quickly after his Mass ended. Snipers dotted rooftops along the route, military helicopters flew overhead and uniformed Albanian police formed human chains to keep the crowds at bay behind barricades. Francis’ own bodyguards stood guard on the back of his car or jogged alongside.
In his opening speech, Francis told President Bujar Nishani, Albanian officials and the diplomatic corps that Albania’s interreligious harmony was an “inspiring example” for the world, showing that Christian-Muslim coexistence wasn’t only possible but beneficial for a country’s development.
“This is especially the case in these times in which authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups,” he said.