Pope Francis is denouncing extremists around the world who in his words are “perverting” religion to justify violence.
On arriving in Albania’s capital on Sunday, the pope said, “Let no one consider themselves to be the `armor’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.”
The pontiff praised the Balkan nation as an “inspiring example” where Christians and Muslims endured brutal oppression under communism, but now live and work peacefully together.
Security was unusually tight for the Pope’s 11-hour visit to the majority Muslim country, his first visit to a European country outside of Italy.
The Roman Catholic leader celebrated Mass in Mother Teresa square in Tirana and met with Albanian President Bujar Nishani.
Large portraits of Catholic priests and nuns who were persecuted under communism have been hung on the boulevards leading to Mother Teresa Square.
The revival of Catholicism in Albania is due in part to the popularity of Mother Teresa, who was born in what is now Macedonia, but had Albanian origins.
Under Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who declared Albania the world’s first atheist state in 1967, hundreds of priests and imams were jailed and scores executed before the regime fell in 1990.
Muslims make up about 59 percent of Albania’s population, with Catholics amounting to 10 percent and Orthodox Christians just under that, according to the country’s official figures.
President Nishani, thanked Pope Francis for making the country his first European destination, saying it was a historic event for all Albanians. He said, “There is no intolerance, extremism among us but reciprocal respect inherited from generation to generation. From an atheist country, we have turned into a country of religious freedom.”