Pope Francis is insisting that it is possible for people of different religions to embrace their respective identities and still co-exist in peace. He says that Albania is proof that it is “possible and practicable.”
The Holy Father said this today as he dedicated the general audience to a recap of his Sunday day-trip to Albania.
“The visit was born from my desire to go to a country that, after being long oppressed by an atheist and inhuman regime, is living an experience of peaceful coexistence among its diverse religious components. It seemed important to me to encourage them on this path, so that they continue it with tenacity and reflect more deeply on its implications for the advantage of the common good.”
Muslims in Albania make up about 56% of the population, while Roman Catholics are 10% and Orthodox are 6.8%. However, religious observance was prohibited in Albania from 1967 until 1990. During that time, all mosques and churches were closed.
In this context, the Pope said that an interreligious meeting was at the center of his trip, “where I was able to see, with great satisfaction, that the peaceful and fruitful coexistence among persons and communities belonging to different religions is not only something to hope for but concretely possible and practicable. They live it! It is a genuine and fruitful dialogue that flees from relativism and is aware of each one’s identity.”
“In fact,” he said, “what brings together the various religious expressions is the path of life, the good will to do good to one’s neighbour, not denying or diminishing their respective identities.”
Blood of martyrs
Francis noted that Albania’s bloody recent history also marked the trip. He said his meeting with priests and religious was an occasion to remember the martyrs with gratitude.
“Thanks to the presence of some elderly persons who lived in their flesh the terrible persecutions, the faith re-echoed of many heroic witnesses of the past, who followed Christ to the extreme consequences.”
Francis was referring to an event in which he heard the testimonies of Fr. Ernesto Simoni Troshani, an 84-year-old diocesan priest, and Sr. Maria Kaleta, who belonged to the Stigmatine Religious Congregation for seven years, before the communist regime shut down their convent.
After Fr. Troshani’s testimony of torture and imprisonment, and forced labor, the Pope wept as he held him in a long embrace.
“It was precisely from their profound union with Jesus, from their relationship of love with Him that their strength flowed – as for every martyr – to face the painful events that led them to martyrdom,” the Pope said of the witnesses’ countrymen.
Francis added that the strength of the Church today is still the love of Christ: “A strength that sustains us in moments of difficulty and which inspires today’s apostolic action to offer all kindness and forgiveness, thus witnessing God’s mercy.”
Speaking of the images of 40 priests murdered during the Communist dictatorship and for whom the cause of beatification is underway, the Pope said those men were among the “hundreds of Christian and Muslim religious murdered, tortured, imprisoned and deported just because they believed in God.”
“Those were dark years, during which religious freedom was cut down and it was prohibited to believe in God. Thousands of churches and mosques were destroyed, transformed into stores and cinemas that propagated the Marxist ideology. Religious books were burnt and parents were prohibited from giving their children religious names of their ancestors.”
The Pontiff said it is important to hold onto the memory of those events: “The memory of the martyrs who endured in the faith is a guarantee for Albania’s destiny, because their blood was not shed in vain, but is a seed that will bear fruits of peace and of fraternal collaboration. Today, in fact, Albania is an example not only of the rebirth of the Church, but also of peaceful coexistence among the religions. Therefore, the martyrs are not the defeated but the winners: shining in their heroic witness is the omnipotence of God who always consoles His people, opening new ways and horizons of hope.”
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