Pope’s Albania visit will draw from past, look to future

Pope Francis’ upcoming Albanian visit will highlight Mother Teresa, honor the martyrs of Albania’s atheistic past, and suggest the country’s potential as a model for religious coexistence.
Holy See Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, discussed the motives for Pope Francis’ Sept. 21 trip in a press briefing Tuesday.
The Albanian-born Blessed Mother Teresa will be an important figure for Pope Francis’ trip, he said.
“In Albania, Mother Teresa is a national heroine, as well as a figure of extraordinary Christian holiness,” Father Lombardi explained.
He observed that Albania was the first officially atheistic state. The pope’s desire to honor those martyred under atheistic communism is a major motive for the trip.
During an Aug. 18 interview on the flight home from South Korea, the Pope noted that Albania was the only country in the region to practice “practical atheism.” He noted that hundreds of Catholic and Orthodox churches were destroyed under the communist government, while other churches were turned into cinemas or dance halls.
Pope Francis also praised Albania’s formation of “a government of national unity” among Muslims, Orthodox and Catholic Christians.
The pope aims to foster interreligious coexistence in the only majority Muslim country in Europe, Fr. Lombardi said at the Sept. 16 briefing.
The Albania visit will be Pope Francis’ fourth international voyage and his first visit as pope to a European country outside Italy.
St. John Paul II was the first pope to visit Albania. During his 1993 visit, John Paul II “practically re-established the (Catholic) hierarchy” by ordaining four bishops in Shkoder Cathedral, Fr. Lombardi said.
The press office director suggested that John Paul II will be another significant figure for Pope Francis’ Albanian visit.
Pope Francis will only be in Albania for one full day. He will visit Albanian president Bujar Nishani at the presidential palace and then address other civil authorities. He will then celebrate Mass at Mother Teresa Square in the national capital of Tirana. After the Mass and the Angelus prayers, he will lunch with Albania’s bishops at the apostolic nunciature.
In the afternoon, Pope Francis will visit Tirana’s Catholic university to meet with leaders of Christian denominations and religious communities in Albania.
He will celebrate vespers in Tirana’s Cathedral of St. Paul with priests, vowed religious, seminarians and participants in the local diocese’s lay movements.
At the end of his visit, he will visit children at the Bethany Center, which cares for abandoned children. He will also meet representatives from other charities in Albania.
Pope Francis will leave Albania following a farewell ceremony at Tirana’s international airport, which has been named for Mother Teresa.

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