Pope condemns extremists for ‘perverting’ religion

Pope Francis spoke out Sunday against the perversion, distortion and exploitation of religion to justify violence as he visited Albania.

“Let no one use God as a shield while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression,” the pontiff said in an address to Albanian President Bujar Nishani, other state officials, religious leaders and the diplomatic corps. “May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman.”

His speech came amid tightened security for the trip, the pontiff’s first to a majority Muslim country since the Islamic State group gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Ahead of his travels, there were reports that militants trained by the group had returned to the region and could pose a threat.

Francis spoke admirably of the “climate of respect and mutual trust” between the religions in Albania, which endured brutal religious oppression under communism, but today live and work together peacefully. Muslims make up about 59% of Albania’s population, with Catholics amounting to 10% and Orthodox Christians just under that, according to the country’s official figures.

“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,” he noted.

In preparation for the pope’s arrival, the capital of Tirana’s main Boulevard Martyrs of the Nation was decorated with Albanian and Vatican flags, as well as giant portraits of 40 Catholic priests who were persecuted or executed under Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who declared Albania the world’s first atheist state in 1967. Hundreds of priests and imams were jailed, scores executed before the regime fell in 1990.

“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,” Francis said.

Francis’ decision to visit tiny Albania before any major European capital is in keeping with his desire for the Catholic Church to go to the “periphery.”

“There is no intolerance, extremism among us but reciprocal respect inherited from generation to generation,” Nishani said in thanking Francis for his visit, calling it an historic event for all Albanians. “From an atheist country, we have turned into a country of religious freedom.”

Following his address, the pontiff celebrated Holy Mass in Mother Teresa Square with thousands in attendance. He recalled the “decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims,” adding “Albania was a land of martyrs.”

Later in the day, Francis spoke to religious leaders at a Catholic university, where he continued to call for an end to violence in the name of religion, calling such intolerance a “particularly insidious enemy.”

“All those forms which present a distorted use of religion, must be firmly refuted as false since they are unworthy of God or humanity,” he said. “No one must use the name of God to commit violence. To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman.”

The following two tabs change content below.