By CAROL GLATZ, Catholic News Service | Published October 2, 2014
TIRANA, Albania (CNS)—Killing in the name of God is sacrilege, and religious leaders must denounce the use of faith to justify violence and oppression, Pope Francis said during a one-day visit to Albania.
In a world “where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and exploited,” Albania is an “aspiring example” to everyone that peaceful coexistence is possible, Pope Francis told Albania President Bujar Nishani and other dignitaries upon his arrival in the country Sept. 21.
No one should “consider themselves to be the ‘armor’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression,” the pope said.
The pope told reporters on the papal plane he chose to visit the Balkan nation because the peaceful collaboration between its Muslim-majority population and minority Catholic and Orthodox communities “is a beautiful sign for the world.”
“It’s a signal I want to send,” he said, that religion, far from causing division, is the very foundation of freedom and brotherhood.
In a meeting with Muslim, Christian and Catholic leaders and representatives, Pope Francis said “authentic religion is a source of peace, not violence” and any “distorted use of religion must be firmly refuted as false.”
“To kill in the name of God is sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman,” he said.
The pope encouraged Albania’s religious communities to continue working toward the common good.
“We need each other,” he said, and the “more men and women are at the service of others, the greater their freedom.”
The pope said Albania was a “land of heroes” and a “land of martyrs,” whose people stood firm in the face of oppression and persecution.
It withstood centuries of Ottoman rule, followed by an independence that degenerated into decades of oppressive communist control. The totalitarian regime founded by Enver Hoxha claimed to liberate the people from the constraints of all religions, turning the country into the only atheist nation in the world.
“It promised a paradise without God, but it left instead a hell with no consolation,” Archbishop Rrok Mirdita of Tirana told the pope during a morning Mass in Mother Teresa Square.
Despite the risks of torture, imprisonment and execution, people held onto their faith, praying and passing on their traditions underground.
Jurgen Lleshaj, a young man from the Diocese of Rreshen, in northern Albania, told Catholic News Service that his faith gives him the courage to face an uncertain life because, “without God, there is nothing.”
“Our parents had to pray in secret, and we learned from them there is no life without Jesus,” said Lemida Zogu, a young woman with the Rreshen diocesan youth group.
Young people made up a large part of the jubilant crowds of some 300,000 who turned out to welcome the pope. Many Muslims, who make up more than half the country’s population, were in attendance as well as large groups of Catholics, who make up about 15 percent of all inhabitants.
A video from Catholic News Service is available here.