“No one must use the name of God to commit violence,” this is the statement of the great spiritual leader of almost 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, Pope Francis, as he gave his speech during his visit to Albania last Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians filled the streets of the capital Tirana to greet him with their yellow and white flags.
He emphasized his point by making an apparent reference to the bloodshed and chaos in Iraq and Syria caused by Islamic State militants together with the Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants. The Pope unreservedly accused those extremists of depraving a religion for their own ends. Those militant groups were allegedly supporting a radical and brutal interpretation of Islam to pursue a dream of reviving a caliphate in Syria and Iraq
“To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman,” the Pope emphatically said.
“Let no one consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression,” the pontiff told officials at the presidential palace in Tirana.
But alongside to his other speech to leaders of Albania’s religious communities, the Pope commended the Albanian (wherein majority of the people are Muslim) by having a peaceful coexistence of Albania’s Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims. He even called it “a precious gift to the country” and praised it as an “inspiring example” of religious harmony and unity.
The 77-year-old pontiff believed it was truly important especially, “in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted”.
During the pontiff’s 11-hour visit to Albania, local authorities heightened their security as they received a threat to the pontiff’s safety coming from Iraq that IS jihadists could be planning an attack on him although the Holy See downplayed such concerns. Pope Francis’ trip to Albania came at a sensitive time, as the turmoil in the Middle East and rising religious intolerance in Europe are also happening.
Albania is known to be a land of martyrs in which scores of priests and imams were executed and nearly 2,000 Orthodox and Catholic churches were destroyed. These all happened under the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled from 1945 to 1985 and that’s the time Albania became the world’s first atheist state. Pope Francis managed to honor the life and sacrifices of the victims and martyrs under Hoxha regime during his mass at the central Mother Teresa.
It is the second papal visit to Albania in modern times. The first is when Pope John Paul II traveled there the year after the collapse of its communist regime in 1992