On the Trip to Albania

«Peaceful and fruitful coexistence among persons and communities belonging to different religions is not only something to hope for but concretely possible and practicable»

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Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave this morning during the general audience.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.

Today I would like to speak about the Apostolic Journey I made to Albania last Sunday. I do so, first of all, as an act of thanksgiving to God, who enabled me to carry out this visit to show even visibly and tangibly, my closeness and that of the whole Church to this people. Then I wish to renew my fraternal gratitude to the Albanian episcopate, to the priests and to the men and women religious who work with such commitment. My grateful thoughts go also to the authorities, who received me with such courtesy, as well as to all those who cooperated in the realization of the visit.

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. Therefore, at the center of the trip was an inter-religious meeting 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, 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.

The meeting with priests, consecrated persons, seminarians and lay Movements was the occasion to remember gratefully, with accents of particular emotion, the numerous martyrs of the faith. 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. 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. Today also, as yesterday, the strength of the Church is not given so much by her organizational capacities or structures, although they are necessary. The Church does not find her strength there. Our strength is 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.

Traveling on the main avenue of Tirana, which leads from the airport to the large central Square, I was able to see the portraits of 40 priests murdered during the Communist dictatorship and for whom the cause of beatification is underway. They are added to 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 memory of these tragic events is essential for the future of a people. 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.

I entrusted this message of hope, founded on faith in Christ and on the memory of the past, to the entire Albanian population, which I saw enthusiastic and joyful in the places of meetings and celebrations, as well as on the streets of Tirana. I encouraged all to draw ever new energies from the Risen Lord, to be able to be evangelical leaven in the society and commit themselves, as already happens, in charitable and educational activities.

Once again I thank the Lord because, with this trip, He enabled me to meet a courageous and strong people, which did not let itself be broken by grief. To our brothers and sisters of Albania I renew the invitation to the courage of goodness, to build the present and the tomorrow of their country and of Europe. I entrust the fruits of my visit to Our Lady of Good Counsel, venerated in the Shrine of the same name at Scutari, that she may continue to guide the path of this martyred people. May the harsh experience of the past root it ever more in openness to our brothers, especially the weakest, and render it a protagonist of that dynamism of charity so necessary in today’s socio-cultural context. I would like us all today to greet this courageous, working people, and that it seek unity in peace.

[His greeting to English-speaking pilgrims:]

I greet the new students of the Venerable English College in Rome and I assure them of my closeness in prayer as they begin their studies for the priesthood. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, India, China, Japan, Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Lord Jesus. God bless you!

[An appeal:]

My thought goes now to those countries of Africa that are suffering because of the ebola epidemic. I am close to the many persons stricken by this terrible sickness. I invite you to pray for them and for those who so tragically have lost their lives. I hope that the necessary aid of the International Community will not be lacking, to alleviate the sufferings of these brothers and sisters of ours. We pray to Our Lady for these sick brothers and sisters. [Ave Maria] [Greeting to Italian-speaking pilgrims, and to youth, newlyweds, and ill:]

Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims: welcome!

Proclaimed Blessed last Saturday at Como was Sister Giovannina Franchi, founder of the Sisters Nurses of Our Lady of Sorrows. May her example inspire in many the desire to unite a profound spiritual life with generous service to the sick, privileging the poorest.

I am happy to receive the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Missionaries of the Faith, on the occasion of their respective General Chapters; the participants in the course of formation organized by the Center of Missionary Animation and the members of the Movement for a Better World. I greet the parish groups, especially the faithful of Palo del Colle; the Grenadiers of Sardinia; the Cassiodoro Cultural Center of Squillace and the detained of the prison of Volterra, who are observing the 25thanniversary of Saint John Paul II’s visit. I hope that this meeting will inspire all to a renewed commitment in favour of peace and solidarity with the neediest.

A thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical memorial of Pope Saint Linus. May his love of the Church, at a time of intense persecutions against Christians inspire the spiritual life of each one: let us also learn to face with courage the moments of adversity, convinced that the Lord never fails in His support and His grace to each of His children.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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