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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Pope arrives in Albania, example of fruitful co-existence between people of different beliefs

Vatican City, 21 September 2014 (VIS) – This morning Pope Francis began his visit to Tirana, Albania - his fourth apostolic trip and the second by a pontiff to the “Land of the Eagles”. The first was by John Paul II in 1993, two years after the fall of the dictatorship and following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Albania. On that occasion, the Pope celebrated Mass in the Cathedral of Scutari, which had been transformed into a sports centre under the communist regime, and he blessed the first stone for the reconstruction of the Shrine to Our Lady of Good Counsel, built in 1895 and demolished in 1967. In Tirana in recent years both the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Jesuit Fathers and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ have been rebuilt.

The Holy Father, who departed from Rome's Fiumicino airport at 7.30 a.m., arrived in Tirana at 9 a.m. and was received at the aerodrome dedicated to Mother Teresa by representatives of the religious and civil authorities, including the apostolic nuncio in Albania, Archbishop Ramiro Moliner Ingles, and the Albanian prime minister Edi Rama. He proceeded by car to the presidential palace of Tirana, where the welcome ceremony took place, and he was greeted by the Albanian president, Bujar Nishani. Following a brief discussion, the president accompanied the Pope to the Salon Scanderberg for a meeting with the authorities, the diplomatic corps, and some of the country's religious leaders.

In his address to those present, the full text of which is published below, the Holy Father spoke about Albania's path to recovering civil liberties and religious freedom, warning of the exploitation of differences between religions and praising the peaceful co-existence and collaboration between those of different religious beliefs in Albania.

“I am very happy to be here with you, in this noble land of Albania, a land of heroes who sacrificed their lives for the independence of the nation, and a land of martyrs, who witnessed to their faith in difficult times of persecution. I am grateful for the invitation to visit your country, called 'the Land of the Eagles', and for your warm welcome.

“Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom. This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world. This rediscovered freedom has helped you look to the future with trust and hope, establishing new projects and renewing friendly relations with countries both near and far.

“Respect for human rights, among which religious freedom and freedom of expression stand out, is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development. When the dignity of the human person is respected and his or her rights recognised and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.

“There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions. The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country. This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and exploited. This creates dangerous circumstances which lead to conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue, and for a collective reflection on what it means to believe in God and to follow his laws.

“Let no one use God as a 'shield' while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!

“What the experience in Albania shows, rather, is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic. The peaceful coexistence of different religious communities is, in fact, an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement. This is something of value which needs to be protected and nurtured each day, by providing an education which respects differences and particular identities, so that dialogue and cooperation for the good of all may be promoted and strengthened by mutual understanding and esteem. It is a gift which we need to implore from God in prayer. May Albania always continue to walk this path, offering an inspiring example to other countries.

“Mr President, after a winter of isolation and persecution, the springtime of freedom has finally come. By means of free elections and new institutional structures, a democratic pluralism has been consolidated which is now favouring economic activity. Many people, especially at the beginning, chose to emigrate in search of work and a better standard of living, and in their own way contributed to the advancement of Albanian society. Many others rediscovered reasons for staying in their homeland, wanting to build it up from within. The efforts and sacrifices of all have improved the life of the nation in general.

“The Catholic Church, for her part, has resumed a normal existence, re-establishing her hierarchy and rejoining the threads of a long tradition. Places of worship have been built or rebuilt. Among these, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Scutari holds a special place. Similarly, schools and centres of education and healthcare have been established for use by all citizens. The presence of the Church and her activities are therefore rightly seen as a service, not only to the Catholic community, but rather to the whole nation.

“Blessed Mother Teresa, together with the martyrs who witnessed to their faith – to whom we pray and offer our appreciation – most certainly are rejoicing in heaven because of the work of men and women of good will who contribute to the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania.

“Today, however, new challenges arise which must be faced. In a world that tends toward economic and cultural globalization, every effort must be made to ensure that growth and development are put at the service of all and not just limited parts of the population. Furthermore, such development will only be authentic if it is sustainable and just, that is, if it has the rights of the poor and respect for the environment close to heart. Alongside the globalisation of the markets there must also be a corresponding globalisation of solidarity; together with economic growth there must be a greater respect for creation; alongside the rights of individuals, there must be the guaranteed rights of those who are a bridge between the individual and the state, the family being the first and foremost of such institutions. Today Albania is able to face these challenges in an atmosphere of freedom and stability, two realities which must be strengthened and which form the basis of hope for the future”.

“I offer my heartfelt thanks to each of you for your gracious welcome, and, like Saint John Paul II in April 1993, I invoke upon Albania the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people. May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania”.

Following his address the Pope continued to Mother Teresa Square where he celebrated Holy Mass.

The living Church in the Land of the Eagles: thank you for your fidelity

Vatican City, 21 September 2014 (VIS) – Thousands of faithful participated in the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Latin and Albanian at 11 a.m. in Mother Teresa Square. The liturgical readings reflected aspects of Albania's history. The first, from the Book of Exodus, told how “I bore you on eagle's wings”, whereas the epistle was St. Paul's letter to the Romans in which the apostle tells how he preached in Illyria, which at that time included the current territory of Albania.

However, in his homily the Holy Father commented on the passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, which includes the phrase “Peace be to this house” and which narrates how Jesus, after naming the twelve apostles, convokes another seventy-two disciples and sends them to proclaim the Kingdom of God to peoples and cities.

“He comes to bring the love of God to the world and he wishes to share it by means of communion and fraternity”, said Pope Francis. “To this end he immediately forms a community of disciples, a missionary community, and he trains them how to 'go out' on mission. The method is both clear and simple: the disciples visit homes and their preaching begins with a greeting which is charged with meaning: 'Peace be to this house!'. It is not only a greeting, but also a gift: the gift of peace. Being here with you today, dear brothers and sisters of Albania, in this square dedicated to a humble and great daughter of this land, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I wish to repeat to you this greeting: May peace be in your homes. May peace reign in your hearts. Peace in your country. Peace”.

“In the mission of the seventy-two disciples we see a reflection of the Christian community’s missionary experience in every age: the risen and living Lord sends not only the Twelve, but the entire Church; he sends each of the baptised to announce the Gospel to all peoples. Through the ages, the message of peace brought by Jesus’ messengers has not always been accepted; at times, the doors have been closed to them. In the recent past, the doors of your country were also closed, locked by the chains of prohibitions and prescriptions of a system which denied God and impeded religious freedom. Those who were afraid of the truth did everything they could to banish God from the hearts of men and women and to exclude Christ and the Church from the history of your country, even though it was one of the first to receive the light of the Gospel”.

Pope Francis went on to recall the “decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims”, affirming that “Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay faithful, and ministers of worship of other religions paid for their fidelity with their lives. Demonstrations of great courage and constancy in the profession of the faith are not lacking. How many Christians did not succumb when threatened, but persevered without wavering on the path they had undertaken! I stand spiritually at that wall of the cemetery of Scutari, a symbolic place of the martyrdom of Catholics before the firing squads, and with profound emotion I place the flower of my prayer and of my grateful and undying remembrance. The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel. The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.

“The doors of Albania have now been reopened and a season of new missionary vitality is growing for all of the members of the people of God: each baptised person has his or her role to fulfil in the Church and in society. Each one must experience the call to dedicate themselves generously to the announcing of the Gospel and to the witness of charity; called to strengthen the bonds of solidarity so as to create more just and fraternal living conditions for all”.

Today, the Pontiff exclaimed, “I have come to give thanks to you for your witness and to encourage you to cultivate hope among yourselves and within your hearts. Do not forget the eagle. The eagle does not forget the nest, but flies high. It flies high! I have come to encourage you to involve the young generations; to nourish yourselves assiduously on the Word of God, opening your hearts to Christ: to the Gospel, to the encounter with God and the encounter among you, which is already taking place. Through this encounter of yours, you offer an example to all Europe”.

“To the living Church in this land of Albania, I say 'thank you' for your example of fidelity”, he concluded. “Do not forget the nest, your distant history; do not forget the wounds inflicted, but do not seek to avenge them. Go ahead, working with hope for a great future. So many of your sons and daughters have suffered for Christ, even to the point of sacrificing their lives. May their witness sustain your steps today and tomorrow as you journey along the path of love, the path of freedom, and above all, the path of justice and of peace”.

To the young: yes to acceptance and solidarity

Vatican City, 21 September 2014 (VIS) – Before the end of this Sunday's liturgy, Francis greeted those present from Albania and other neighbouring countries to thank them for their presence and for their witness of faith, and addressed the young in particular. “They say that Albania is the youngest country in Europe”, he commented, smiling, and invited them to “confirm [their] existence in Jesus Christ”.

“He who builds on Christ builds on rock, because He is always faithful, even if we sometimes lack faith”, continued the Holy Father. “Jesus knows us better than anyone else; when we sin, He does not condemn us but rather says to us, 'Go and sin no more'. Dear young people, you are the new generation of Albania, the future of your homeland. With the power of the Gospel and the example of your antecedents and the martyrs, know how to say 'No' to the idolatry of money, 'No' to the false freedom of individualism, 'No' to addiction and to violence; say 'Yes' to a culture of encounter and of solidarity, 'Yes' to the beauty that is inseparable from the good and the true; 'Yes' to a life lived with great enthusiasm and at the same time faithful in little things. In this way, you will build a better Albania and a better world”.

Before the Angelus prayer, the Pope invoked the Virgin Mary, venerated in Albania above all as “Our Lady of Good Counsel”. “I stand before her, spiritually, at her Shrine in Scutari, so dear to you, and to her I entrust the entire Church in Albania and all the people of this country, especially families, children and the elderly, who are the living memory of the people. May Our Lady guide you to walk together with God towards the hope that never disappoints”.
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