Once the world’s first atheist country, Albania is now a model of religious coexistence that the whole world should follow, Pope Francis said during his landmark visit on Sunday.
|Albanian religious leaders look at Pope Francis arriving for a Mass in mother Teresa square, Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis arrived Sunday in Albania on his first European trip, designed to highlight the Balkan nation’s path from a brutal communist state where religion was banned to a model of Christian-Muslim coexistence for a world witnessing conflict in God’s name. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino|
“Religious tolerance is a treasure that you should protect well and which merits special attention in a time when extremism is threatening religious coexistence,” Pope Francis said during a meeting with Albania’s President Bujar Nishani.
“No one should think that can use God’s strength to carry acts of violence,” he added.
Pope Francis arrived in Albania on Sunday morning, and after meeting Nishani, held a public mass in Tirana’s Mother Teresa Square that was attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Muslims and Christians.
Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said at a press conference that between 250,000 to 300,000 people had attended the mass.
For nearly half-a-century under the brutal rule of former Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania was the most isolated country in Europe, comparable to today’s North Korea.
In 1967, Hoxha declared Albania the first atheist country in the world, launching a persecution campaign against all religions and particularly against the well-educated Catholic clergy.
Although Albania is a majority Muslim country, it has long tradition of religious coexistence and tolerance.
According to the 2011 population census, 56.7 per cent of Albanians call themselves Muslim, 10.53 per cent Catholics, 6.75 per cent Orthodox and 2.09 per cent Bektashi Muslims. Another 2.5 per are atheists and 5.53 per cent are non-denominational believers. Source: BalkanInsight