Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 02:45 am
During Mass at Mother Teresa square as part of his one-day trip to Albania, Pope Francis recalled the country's vicious history of anti-religious persecution, saying it is now ready for the Gospel to flourish.
"Recalling the decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, we can say that Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, and laity paid for their fidelity with their lives," he said Sept. 21.
"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!"
The Pope's comments reference the latter part of the 20th century when Albania was part of the Eastern bloc – atheism was promoted, and religious persons of all confessions persecuted.
The activities of Church were hindered, school and seminaries closed, and bishops and priests were killed or arrested. When Albania was officially proclaimed an atheist state in 1967, more than 2,100 churches and mosques were closed. Out of seven bishops and 200 hundred priests and nuns active in Albania in 1945, just one bishop and 30 priests and nuns were alive when the communist regime collapsed in 1991.
During his homily Sunday, Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading from Luke chapter 10, where Christ commissions the 72 disciples to go out as missionaries and evangelize.
"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," he said. "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."
"Today, the doors of Albania have been reopened and a season of new missionary vitality is growing for all of the members of the people of God: each baptized person has his or her role to fulfill in the Church and in society."
Pope Francis is the second pontiff to visit the nation. Pope St. John Paul II visited in 1993, as the country was ousting the last of the Communist party. He ordained four bishops while he was visiting, and since his visit, the Albanian Church has seen the beginnings of a revival.
"Today, I have come to encourage you to cultivate hope among yourselves and within your hearts; to involve the young generations; to nourish yourselves assiduously on the Word of God, opening your hearts to Christ: his Gospel will show you the way!" he said.
"In the spirit of communion among bishops, priests, consecrated persons and laity, I encourage you to bring vitality to your pastoral activities and to continuously seek new ways of making the Church present in society: do not be afraid to respond generously to Christ who invites you to follow him."
"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!"
The Pope met earlier in the day with Albania's president, Bujar Nishani as well as representatives of the local civil authorities. After Mass and the Angelus at Mother Teresa square and then lunch with the bishops of Albania at the Apostolic Nunciature.
He will then celebrate vespers that evening in the Cathedral of St. Paul with priests, religious brothers and sisters, seminarians and members of different lay movements from the diocese.
Afterward, he will meet with children from the "Centro Betania," or "Bethany Center," and representatives from other charitable institutions as a final event to his busy day. The Pope will then participate in a farewell ceremony before departing Tirana's international "Mother Teresa" airport and returning to Rome.