Together with God: Religious coexistence in Albania
In his first trip to a Muslim-majority country – Albania, Pope Francis held a meeting with religious leaders in Tirana highlights one of the main purposes of his visit to Albania: to encourage inter-religious dialogue and mutual cooperation among believers. “The presence of the Pope in Albania is to tell all peoples that it is possible to work together,” the Holy Father said ahead of his voyage.
Pope Francis said he sees in Albania a model of inter-religious co-operation. It is a country with a significant Muslim majority; Christians account for approximately 30% of the population. But Christians and Muslims have found a way to live peacefully with one another. Albanians speak easily about their relationships with their Muslim or Christian neighbours, celebrating with one another, mourning with one another, living together in (relative) harmony.
Throughout the Pope’s visit there has been a focus on the persecution that all believers endured during the communist regime. The transition to democracy, as Pope Francis noted in his address to the religious leaders, has created the conditions that make the exercise of authentic religious freedom possible. “Religious freedom,” the Pope said, quoting St John Paul II, “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.” An authentic religious spirit, Pope Francis continued, must reject all forms of violence in the name of God.
Perhaps the most significant part of his message, though, is that religious freedom cannot be preserved only with legislation imposed from above. “Rather, religious freedom is a shared space,” the Pope said, “an atmosphere of respect and cooperation that must be built with everyone’s participation, even those who have no religious convictions.”
Albanians are trying to build this “shared space,” where believers of different traditions can live together in peace. Pope Francis has encouraged the people of Albania not only to continue to grow in peaceful co-existence, but also to continue to be a sign for their own nation and for the world.
Pope meets Disabled and Needy Children
Pope Francis has also visited a residential centre for disabled and needy children run by an Italian charity in the Albanian capital, Tirana. It was the final engagement of his one-day visit to Albania on Sunday. In his address at the Bethany Centre, the Pope spoke of how faith, working through charity, can dislodge indifference, disbelief and apathy. He also said goodness offers infinitely more than money which only disappoints and warned against measuring everything in terms of power and money.
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