Pope Francis opened his trip to Albania praising the “coexistence” between members of different faiths in the country, while condemning those who “consider themselves to be the 'armour' of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.” “May no one use religion,” the Pope said, “as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!” Such trends lead to “conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue, and for a collective reflection on what it means to believe in God and to follow his laws.” Addressing the scores of people gathered outside the presidential palace, where he was welcomed by Albania's leaders and diplomatic corps, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the invitation to Albania, an nation he described as “a land of heroes” and “of martyrs.” Acknowledging the efforts made over the past quarter century on a path towards “rediscovered freedom,” he stressed that “respect for human rights,” especially religious freedom and freedom of expression, “is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development.” “When the dignity of the human person is respected and his or her rights recognized and guaranteed,” the Pope said, “creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.” The Holy Father praised the “peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions” as a “beautiful characteristic” of the country, adding that it is “an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement.” Such coexistence, he said, must be “protected and nourished” through “education which respects differences and particular identities, so that dialogue and cooperation for the good of all may be promoted and strengthened by mutual understanding and esteem.” Pope Francis lauded the “mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims” which exists as “a precious gift” to Albania, adding that that this trust is especially important at a time in which “authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized.” He then added that this coexistence is “a gift” for which we need to pray. “May Albania always continue to walk this path, offering to other countries an inspiring example,” he said Addressing Albania's president, Bujar Nishani, the Pope acknowledged that “a winter of isolation and persecution” had ended in the country, and “the springtime of freedom has finally come.” Through “free elections and new institutional structures,” he said, “a democratic pluralism has been consolidated which is now favouring economic activity.” Moreover, the “efforts and sacrifices” of the Albanian people “have improved the life of the nation in general,” he said. Pope Francis went on to laud the re-establishing of the Catholic Church's hierarchy in the country, thereby continuing its long-standing tradition. “Places of worship have been built or rebuilt,” he said, including the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Scutari, as well as schools and healthcare centers. “The presence of the Church and its activities are therefore rightly seen as a service, not only to the Catholic community, but rather to the whole nation.” Pope Francis added that Blessed Mother Teresa, as well the martyrs of the country, are “most certainly are rejoicing in heaven” due to the work done towards “the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania.” Turning to the challenges which stem from “economic and cultural globalization,” the Pope continued, “every effort must be made to ensure that growth and development are put at the service of all and not just limited parts of the population.” He added that such development “will only be authentic” so long as it keeps in mind “the rights of the poor and respect for the environment.” The Holy Father emphasized the need for a “greater respect for creation,” and for the rights of those who serve as a “bridge between the individual and the state,” stressing that family is “the first and foremost of such institutions.” “Today Albania is able to face these challenges in an atmosphere of freedom and stability, two realities which must be strengthened and which form the basis of hope for the future,” he said. Pope Francis concluded his address by recalling Saint John Paul II's 1993 visit, invoking as he did the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, and “entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people.” “May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania.”
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