Pope Francis visits centre for disabled and needy children in Tirana

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has visited a residential centre for disabled and needy children run by an Italian charity in the Albanian capital, Tirana.  It was the final engagement of his one-day visit to Albania on Sunday.  In his address at the Bethany Centre the Pope spoke of how faith, working through charity, can dislodge indifference, disbelief and  apathy. He also said goodness offers infinitely more than money which only disappoints and warned against measuring everything in terms of power and money.

 

Please find below a translation into English of the Pope’s address during his meeting with children at the Bethany Centre and representatives of other charitable organisations in Albania:

 

“Dear Friends,

               

I thank you from my heart for your joyful welcome!  Above all, I wish to thank those of you who, each day, offer to so many children and youngsters in need of care, tenderness, a serene environment and friendliness.  May you be also true educators, giving good example in the way you live and the way you offer support.

 

                In places such as this we are all confirmed in the faith; each one is helped in his or her belief, because we see the faith visibly expressed in practical acts of charity.  We see how faith brings light and hope in situations of grave hardship; we observe how faith is rekindled in hearts touched by the Spirit of Jesus who said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Mk 9:37).  This faith,  working through charity, dislodges the mountains of indifference, of disbelief and of apathy, and opens hands and hearts to work for what is good and share this experience.  Through humble gestures and simple acts of service to the least among us, the Good News that Jesus is risen and lives among us is proclaimed.

               

This Centre, furthermore, shows that it is possible to live together peacefully and fraternally as people of different ethnicities and followers of various religious confessions.  Here differences do not prevent harmony, joy and peace, but rather become occasions for a greater mutual awareness and understanding.  The variety of religious experiences reveals a true and reverential love of neighbour; each religious community expresses itself through love and not violence, and is never ashamed of showing goodness!  The persons who nourish goodness in their heart, find that such goodness leads to a peaceful conscience and to profound joy even in the midst of difficulties and misunderstandings.  Even when affronted, goodness is never weak but  rather, shows its strength by refusing to take revenge. 

               

Goodness is its own reward and draws us closer to God, who is the Supreme Good.  It helps us to think like him, to see our lives in the light of his plan of love for each one of us, and enables us to delight in life’s daily joys, helping us in difficulties and in trials.  Goodness offers infinitely more than money, which only deludes, because we have been created to receive the love of God and to offer it, not measuring everything in terms of money or power.

               

Dear friends, in her greeting, your Director recalled the steps taken by your Association and the works that were inspired by the founder, Mrs Antonietta Vitale, whom I cordially greet and thank for her welcome.  Your Director also spoke of help given by benefactors and described the progress of various projects.  She noted too, how many children have been lovingly welcomed and cared for.   Mirjan spoke, on the other hand, of a personal experience, of wonder and gratitude for an encounter which was life-changing for him, and which opened new horizons, offering opportunities to make new friends, and particularly one Friend who is greater than all the others, namely, Jesus.  Mirjan said something very poignant in regard to those volunteers who offer their help; he said, “For fifteen years now they have sacrificed themselves joyfully out of love for Jesus and for us”.  This phrase reveals how making a gift of oneself for the love of Jesus gives birth to joy and hope, and it also shows how serving one’s brothers and sisters is transformed into an experience of sharing God’s kingdom.  The words of Mirjan-Paolo might seem paradoxical to many in our world who are slow to grasp their meaning and who frantically seek the key to existence in earthly riches, possessions and amusements.  What these people discover, instead, is estrangement and bewilderment.

               

The secret to a good life is found in loving and giving oneself for love’s sake.  From here comes the strength to “sacrifice oneself joyfully”, and thus the most demanding work is transformed into a source of a greater joy.  In this way, there is no longer any fear of making important choices in life, but they are seen for what they are, namely, as the way to personal fulfilment in freedom.

               

May the Lord Jesus and his Mother, the Virgin Mary, bless your Association, this Bethany Centre and the other centres which love has initiated and providence has built.  May God bless all the volunteers, benefactors and the children and adolescents who have been welcomed here.  May your patron, Saint Anthony, accompany you along the way.  I encourage you to continue faithfully serving the Lord Jesus in the poor and abandoned, and to pray to him so that the hearts and minds of all may be opened to goodness, to charity shown in works, which is the source of real and authentic joy.  I ask you also kindly to pray for me, and from my heart, I bless each one of you.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope celebrates Vespers with priests and religious in Tirana

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis told Albania’s priests, religious and lay movements that despite their many difficulties, they must have the courage to go out and serve those most in need. Speaking at Vespers in Tirana’s Catholic cathedral, the Pope recalled those pastors who paid a huge price under the atheist regime, experiencing prison and persecution in order to remain faithful to Christ.

When love for Christ is placed above all else, Pope Francis said, then we are able to move outside of ourselves, of our personal or communal pettiness, and move towards Jesus who, in our brothers and sisters, comes to us. His wounds are still visible today, the Pope said, on the bodies of so many men and women who are hungry and thirsty; who are humiliated; who are in hospital or prison. What people are looking for today, the Pope concluded, is not experts, but rather humble witnesses of the mercy and tenderness of God.

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ homily to Priests, Religious, Seminarians and Members of Lay Movements in the Cathedral of Tirana.

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a great joy for me to meet with you in your beloved homeland; I thank God for the opportunity and I thank you for your hospitality! Here in your midst, I can better express my closeness to your task of evangelization.

Since the moment your country has been free from dictatorship, the ecclesial communities in Albania have begun again to journey onward and to organize themselves for pastoral work, looking to the future with hope. I am particularly grateful to those Pastors who paid a great price for their fidelity to Christ and for their decision to remain united to the Successor of Peter. They were courageous in the face of difficulty and trial! There are still priests and religious among us who have experienced prison and persecution, like the sister and brother who have told us their story. I embrace you warmly, and I praise God for your faithful witness that inspires the whole Church to continue to proclaim the Gospel with joy.

Treasuring this experience, the Church in Albania can grow in its missionary and apostolic zeal. I know and appreciate the effort you make to oppose those new forms of “dictatorship” that threaten to enslave individuals and communities. If the atheist regime sought to suffocate the faith, these new forms of dictatorship, in a more insidious way, are able to suffocate charity. I am referring to individualism, rivalry and heated conflicts: these are worldly mentalities that can contaminate even the Christian community. We need not be discouraged by these difficulties; do not be afraid to continue along the path of the Lord. He is always at your side, he gives you his grace and he helps you to sustain one another; to accept one another as you are, with understanding and mercy; he helps you to deepen fraternal communion.

Evangelization is more effective when it is carried out with oneness of spirit and with sincere teamwork among the various ecclesial communities as well as among missionaries and local clergy: this requires courage to seek out ways of working together and offering mutual help in the areas of catechesis and catholic education, as well as integral human development and charity. In these settings, the contribution of the ecclesial movements that know how to work in communion with Pastors is highly valuable. That is precisely what I see before me: bishops, priests, religious and laity: a Church that desires to walk in fraternity and unity.

When love for Christ is placed above all else, even above our legitimate particular needs, then we are able to move outside of ourselves, of our personal or communal pettiness, and move towards Jesus who, in our brothers and sisters, comes to us. His wounds are still visible today on the bodies of so many men and women who are hungry and thirst; who are humiliated; who are in hospital or prison. By touching and caring for these wounds with tenderness, it is possible to fully live the Gospel and to adore God who lives in our midst.

There are many problems that you encounter every day. These problems compel you to immerse yourselves with fervour and generosity in apostolic work. And yet, we know that by ourselves we can do nothing: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain” (Ps 127:1). This awareness calls us to give due space for the Lord every day, to dedicate our time to him, open our hearts to him, so that he may work in our lives and in our mission. That which the Lord promises for the prayer made with trust and perseverance goes beyond what we can imagine (cf Lk 11:11-12): beyond that which we ask for, God sends us also the Holy Spirit. The contemplative dimension of our lives becomes indispensable even in the midst of the most urgent and difficult tasks we encounter. The more our mission calls us to go out into the peripheries of life, the more our hearts feel the intimate need to be united to the heart of Christ, which is full of mercy and love.

Considering the fact that the number of priests and religious is not yet sufficient, the Lord Jesus repeats to you today “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest,” (Mt 9: 37-38). We must not forget that this prayer begins with a gaze: the gaze of Jesus, who sees the great harvest. Do we also have this gaze? Do we know how to recognize the abundant fruits that the grace of God has caused to grow and the work that there is to be done in the field of the Lord? It is by gazing with faith on the field of God that prayer spring forth, namely, the daily and pressing invocation to the Lord for priestly and religious vocations. Dear seminarians, postulants and novices, you are the fruit of this prayer of the people of God, which always precedes and accompanies your personal response. The Church in Albania needs your enthusiasm and your generosity. The time that you dedicate today to a solid spiritual, theological, communitarian and pastoral formation, is directed to serving adequately the people of God tomorrow. The people, more than seeking experts, are looking for witnesses: humble witnesses of the mercy and tenderness of God; priests and religious conformed to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who are capable of communicating the love of Christ to all people.

Together with you and the entire Albanian people, I want to give thanks to God for the many missionaries whose activity was decisive for the renewal of the Church in Albania and which continues to be of great importance to this day. These missionaries have offered significant contribution to the consolidation of the spiritual patrimony that the Albanian bishops, priests, consecrated religious and lay persons have preserved in the midst of difficult trials and tribulations. Let us acknowledge the great work done by the religious institutes for the revival of Catholic education: these efforts are worth recognizing and sustaining.

Dear brothers and sisters, do not be discouraged in the face of difficulties. Following the footsteps of your fathers, be tenacious in giving testimony to Christ, walking “together with God, toward the hope that never disappoints”. In your journey, rest assured that you are accompanied and supported by the love of the whole Church. I thank you from the heart for this meeting, and I entrust each one of you and your communities - your plans and your hopes - to the holy Mother of God. I bless you from my heart and I ask you please to pray for me.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to Albania’s faith leaders: religion is source of peace

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with leaders of the different religious communities in Albania on Sunday afternoon, insisting once again that no-one can use the name of God to commit violence. Speaking at the Catholic University of Tirana, the Pope said “Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence….To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman.”

Noting that religious freedom cannot be guaranteed by legislation alone, the Pope urged his listeners to promote attitudes of respect and cooperation in the service of the common good.  When a person is secure of his or her own beliefs, he said, there is no need to impose or put pressure on others.

Please find below the full text of the Pope’s meeting with leaders of other religions and Christian denominations in Albania

Dear Friends,

It is a great pleasure to be here at this meeting which brings together leaders of the main religious confessions present in Albania. With deep respect I greet each one of you and the communities that you represent; and I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Archbishop Massafra for his words of introduction. It is important that you are here together: it is a sign of the dialogue which you experience daily, seeking to build among yourselves bonds of fraternity and cooperation for the good of the whole of society.

Albania sadly witnessed the violence and tragedy that can be caused by a forced exclusion of God from personal and communal life. When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated. You know well how much pain comes from the denial of freedom of conscience and of religious freedom, and how from such a wound comes a humanity that is impoverished because it lacks hope and ideals to guide it.

The changes that have come since the 1990’s have had the positive effect, among other things, of creating the conditions for an exercise of authentic religious freedom. This has made it possible for each community to renew traditions which were never really extinguished, despite ferocious persecution. With this religious freedom has come also the possibility for every person to offer, according to their own religious convictions, a positive contribution; firstly, to the moral reconstruction of the country and then, subsequently, to the economic reconstruction.

In reality, as John Paul II stated during his historic visit to Albania in 1993, “Religious freedom […] is not only a precious gift from the Lord for those who have faith: it is a gift for each person, because it is the basic guarantee of every other expression of freedom […]. Only faith reminds us that, if we have one Creator, we are therefore all brothers and sisters. Religious freedom is a safeguard against all forms of totalitarianism and contributes decisively to human fraternity” (Message to the Albanian People, 25 April 1993).

He immediately then added, “True religious freedom shuns the temptation to intolerance and sectarianism, and promotes attitudes of respect and constructive dialogue” (ibid.). We cannot deny that intolerance towards those with different religious convictions is a particularly insidious enemy, one which today is being witnessed in various areas around the world. All believers must be particularly vigilant so that, in living out with conviction our religious and ethical code, we may always express the mystery we intend to honour. This means that all those forms which present a distorted use of religion, must be firmly refuted as false since they are unworthy of God or humanity. Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence! 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.

Seen in this light, religious freedom is not a right which can be guaranteed solely by existing legislation, although laws are necessary. Rather religious freedom is a shared space, an atmosphere of respect and cooperation that must be built with everyone’s participation, even those who have no religious convictions. Allow me to outline two attitudes which can be especially helpful in the advancement of this fundamental freedom.

The first attitude is that of regarding every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions, not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters. When a person is secure of his or her own beliefs, there is no need to impose or put pressure on others: there is a conviction that truth has its own power of attraction. Deep down, we are all pilgrims on this earth, and on this pilgrim journey, as we yearn for truth and eternity, we do not live autonomous and self-sufficient individual lives; the same applies to religious, cultural and national communities. We need each other, and are entrusted to each other’s care. Each religious tradition, from within, must be able to take account of others.

The second attitude which fosters the promotion of religious freedom is the work done in service of the common good. Whenever adherence to a specific religious tradition gives birth to service that shows conviction, generosity and concern for the whole of society without making distinctions, then there too exists an authentic and mature living out of religious freedom. This presents itself not only as a space in which to legitimately defend one’s autonomy, but also as a potential that enriches the human family as it advances. The more men and women are at the service of others, the greater their freedom!

Let us look around us: there are so many poor and needy people, so many societies that try to find a more inclusive way of social justice and path of economic development! How great is the need for the human heart to be firmly fixed on the deepest meaning of experiences in life and rooted in a rediscovery of hope! Men and women, inspired in these areas by the values of their respective religious traditions, can offer an important, and even unique, contribution. This is truly a fertile land offering much fruit, also in the field of interreligious dialogue.

Dear friends, I encourage you to maintain and develop the tradition of good relations among the various religious communities in Albania, and to be united in serving your beloved homeland. Continue to be a sign for your country, and beyond, that good relations and fruitful cooperation are truly possible among men and women of different religions. And pray also for me. May God bless you all.

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: no to the use of religion as a pretext for violence

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said on Sunday that no one must consider themselves to be the “armour” of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.  

"May no one" he said "use religion 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!"

The Pope was addressing the President, Government, Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps of Albania, where he is spending a one-day apostolic visit. In a discourse held at the start of the day at the Presidential Palace in Tirana he spoke with joy and appreciation of the climate of respect and mutual trust that exists in the nation btween Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims and said that peaceful coexistence and collaboration among followers of different religions is a precious gift to the country

And speaking of the respect for human rights, religious freedom and freedom of expression that - he said - allow for creativity and the unleashing of the potential of the human potential and personality that further the common good - the Pope said the Albanian experience shows  that a "peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic",

Pope Francis also referred to new challenges which must be faced "in a world that tends to economic and cultural globalization". And he said that "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"

"Development" he said "will only be authentic if it is sustainable and just, that is, if it has the rights of the poor and respect for the environment close to heart.  Alongside the globalization of the markets there must also be a corresponding globalization of solidarity; together with economic growth there must be a greater respect for creation; alongside the rights of individuals, there must be the guaranteed rights of those who are a bridge between the individual and the state, the family".

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis' address to the Government and Civil Authorities of Albania:   

Mr President,

Mr Prime Minister,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here with you, in this noble land of Albania, a land of heroes who sacrificed their lives for the independence of the nation, and a land of martyrs, who witnessed to their faith in difficult times of persecution.  I am grateful for the invitation to visit your country, called “the Land of the Eagles”, and for your warm welcome.

Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom.  This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world.  This rediscovered freedom has helped you look to the future with trust and hope, establishing new projects and renewing friendly relations with countries both near and far.

Respect for human rights, among which religious freedom and freedom of expression stand out, 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, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.  

There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions.  The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country.  This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized.  This creates dangerous circumstances which 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.

Let no one consider themselves to be the “armour” of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!  May no one use religion 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!

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.  The peaceful coexistence of different religious communities is, in fact, an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement.  This is something of value which needs to be protected and nourished each day, by providing an 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.  It is a gift which we need to implore from God in prayer.  May Albania always continue to walk this path, offering to other countries an inspiring example. 

Mr President, after a winter of isolation and persecution, the springtime of freedom has finally come.  By means of free elections and new institutional structures, a democratic pluralism has been consolidated which is now favouring economic activity.  Many people, especially at the beginning, chose to emigrate in search of work and a better standard of living, and in their own way  contributed to the advancement of Albanian society.  Many others rediscovered reasons for staying in their homeland, wanting to build it up from within.  The efforts and sacrifices of all have improved the life of the nation in general.

The Catholic Church, for its part, has resumed a normal existence, re-establishing its hierarchy and taking up once more the line of a long tradition.  Places of worship have been built or rebuilt. Among these, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Scutari holds a special place.  Similarly, schools and centres of education and healthcare have been established for the use of all citizens.  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.

Blessed Mother Teresa, together with the martyrs who witnessed to their faith – to whom we pray and offer our appreciation – most certainly are rejoicing in heaven because of the work of men and women of good will who contribute to the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania.

Today, however, new challenges arise which must be faced.  In a world that tends to economic and cultural globalization, 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.  Furthermore, such development will only be authentic if it is sustainable and just, that is, if it has the rights of the poor and respect for the environment close to heart.  Alongside the globalization of the markets there must also be a corresponding globalization of solidarity; together with economic growth there must be a greater respect for creation; alongside the rights of individuals, there must be the guaranteed rights of those who are a bridge between the individual and the state, the family being 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. 

I offer my heartfelt gratitude to each of you for your gracious welcome, and, as Saint John Paul II did in April 1993, I invoke upon Albania the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people.  May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania.

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope invites young Albanians to build their lives on Christ

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged the new generations of Albania to  reject the idolatry of money, the false freedom of individualism, to addiction and violence, and he has encouraged them to cultivate a culture of encounter and of solidarity.

The Pope's words to the young came during his Angelus address after the celebration of Holy Mass in Tirana's Mother Teresa Square. Commenting off-the-cuff that he has been told that Albania is the youngest country in Europe, Pope Francis invited the youth to build a better future for their country without forgetting the lessons of the past.

Please find below the full text of the Pope's Angelus address:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Before concluding this celebration, I wish to greet each of you who have come from all over Albania and from nearby countries.  I thank you for your presence and for the witness of your faith.

In a particular way, I wish to greet the young! They tell me that Albania is the youngest country in Europe, so it is to you that I turn!  I invite you to build your lives on Jesus Christ: the one who builds on Christ builds on rock, because he is always faithful, even if we sometimes lack faith (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13).  Jesus knows us better than anyone else; when we sin, he does not condemn us but rather says to us, “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).  Dear young people, you are the new generation of Albania, the future of the nation. With the power of the Gospel and the example of the martyrs, you know how to say “No” to the idolatry of money, “No” to the false freedom of individualism, “No” to addiction and to violence; you also know how to say “Yes” to a culture of encounter and of solidarity, “Yes” to the beauty that is inseparable from the good and the true; “Yes” to a life lived with great enthusiasm and at the same time faithful in little things.  In this way, you will build a better Albania and a better world in the footsteps of your ancestors.

Let us turn to the Virgin Mary, whom you venerate above all under her title of “Our Lady of Good Counsel”.  I stand before her, spiritually, at her Shrine in Scutari, so dear to you, and to her I entrust the entire Church in Albania and all the people of this country, especially families, children and the elderly who are the living memory of the people.  May Our Lady guide you to walk “together with God towards the hope that does not delude.”

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to Albanians: do not be afraid of responding to Christ

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday encouraged the people of Albania to cultivate hope and involve the young generations, opening their hearts to Christ and fulfilling their roles in the Church and in society.

In his homily during Mass in Tirana’s Mother Teresa Square, Pope Francis recalled the witness of the Albanian martyrs and the terrible suffering of persecuted Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims.

Commenting on the fact that the Albanian population is a young one, he urged all Albanians not to forget the wounds of the past, but to go forward and fly high on the wings of hope for a great future.

Please find below the full text of the Pope’s homily:

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Holy Mass in Mother Teresa Square
 (Tirana, 21 September 2014)

Today’s Gospel tells us that, as well as the Twelve Apostles, Jesus calls another seventy-two disciples and that he sends them to the villages and cities to announce the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 10:1-9, 17-20).  He comes to bring the love of God to the world and he wishes to share it by means of communion and fraternity.  To this end he immediately forms a community of disciples, a missionary community, and he trains them how to “go out” on mission.  The method is both clear and simple: the disciples visit homes and their preaching begins with a greeting which is charged with meaning: “Peace be to this house!”.  It is not only a greeting, but also a gift: the gift of peace.  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!    

In the mission of the seventy-two disciples we see a reflection of the Christian community’s missionary experience in every age: the risen and living Lord sends not only the Twelve, but the entire Church; he sends each of the baptized to announce the Gospel to all peoples.  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.  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.  Those who were afraid of the truth did everything they could to banish God from the hearts of men and women and to exclude Christ and the Church from the history of your country, even though it was one of the first to receive the light of the Gospel.  In the second reading, in fact, we heard a reference being made to Illyria, which in Paul’s time included the territory of modern-day Albania.

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.  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!  I stand spiritually at that wall of the cemetery of Scutari, a symbolic place of the martyrdom of Catholics before the firing squads, and with profound emotion I place the flower of my prayer and of my grateful and undying remembrance.  The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel (cf. First Reading).  The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.

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 fulfil in the Church and in society.  Each one must experience the call to dedicate themselves generously to the announcing of the Gospel and to the witness of charity; called to strengthen the bonds of solidarity so as to create more just and fraternal living conditions for all.  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!  May your faith be joyful and bright; may you demonstrate that the encounter with Christ gives meaning to human existence, meaning to every man and woman.
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!  In a priestly or religious vocation you will find the richness and the joy of offering yourselves to the service of God and your brothers and sisters.  How many men and women await the light of the Gospel and the grace of the Sacraments!

To the Church which is alive in this land of Albania, I say “thank you” for the example of fidelity to the Gospel!  So many of your sons and daughters have suffered for Christ, even to the point of sacrificing their lives.  May their witness sustain your steps today and tomorrow as you journey along the way of love, of freedom, of justice and of peace.  Amen.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to journalists: Albania good signal for the world

(Vatican Radio) The peaceful coexistence between religions in Albania is a “good signal for the world”. This is what Pope Francis said to the over 50 journalists from 10 different nations traveling with him on the Papal plane en route to Tirana for the Pope’s one-day visit to the Albanian nation.

The Pope said that Albania is a country that has much suffered, but that has managed to establish a situation of peaceful coexistence and collaboration between its diverse religious denominations.

This – he said – “is a good sign for the world”: dialogue, peace and equilibrium in favour of good governance.

And asking for prayers, the Pope wished the journalists “a good day of hard work”, and  said it is good “that the public knows what the Church and the Pope does”.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: religious coexistance and collaboration precious gift

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said on Sunday that peaceful coexistence and collaboration among followers of different religions is a precious gift to the country.

The Pope was addressing the President, Government, Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps of Albania, where he is spending a one-day apostolic visit. In a discourse held at the start of the day at the Presidential Palace in Tirana he spoke with joy and appreciation of the climate of respect and mutual trust that exists in the nation btween Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims.

And speaking of the respect for human rights, religious freedom and freedom of expression that - he said - allow for creativity and the unleashing of the potential of the human potential and personality that further the common good - the Pope said the Albanian experience shows  that a "peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic",

Pope Francis also referred to new challenges which must be faced "in a world that tends to economic and cultural globalization". And he said that "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"

"Development" he said "will only be authentic if it is sustainable and just, that is, if it has the rights of the poor and respect for the environment close to heart.  Alongside the globalization of the markets there must also be a corresponding globalization of solidarity; together with economic growth there must be a greater respect for creation; alongside the rights of individuals, there must be the guaranteed rights of those who are a bridge between the individual and the state, the family".

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis' address to the Government and Civil Authorities of Albania:   

Mr President,

Mr Prime Minister,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here with you, in this noble land of Albania, a land of heroes who sacrificed their lives for the independence of the nation, and a land of martyrs, who witnessed to their faith in difficult times of persecution.  I am grateful for the invitation to visit your country, called “the Land of the Eagles”, and for your warm welcome.

Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom.  This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world.  This rediscovered freedom has helped you look to the future with trust and hope, establishing new projects and renewing friendly relations with countries both near and far.

Respect for human rights, among which religious freedom and freedom of expression stand out, 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, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.  

There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions.  The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country.  This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized.  This creates dangerous circumstances which 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.

Let no one consider themselves to be the “armour” of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!  May no one use religion 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!

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.  The peaceful coexistence of different religious communities is, in fact, an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement.  This is something of value which needs to be protected and nourished each day, by providing an 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.  It is a gift which we need to implore from God in prayer.  May Albania always continue to walk this path, offering to other countries an inspiring example. 

Mr President, after a winter of isolation and persecution, the springtime of freedom has finally come.  By means of free elections and new institutional structures, a democratic pluralism has been consolidated which is now favouring economic activity.  Many people, especially at the beginning, chose to emigrate in search of work and a better standard of living, and in their own way  contributed to the advancement of Albanian society.  Many others rediscovered reasons for staying in their homeland, wanting to build it up from within.  The efforts and sacrifices of all have improved the life of the nation in general.

The Catholic Church, for its part, has resumed a normal existence, re-establishing its hierarchy and taking up once more the line of a long tradition.  Places of worship have been built or rebuilt. Among these, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Scutari holds a special place.  Similarly, schools and centres of education and healthcare have been established for the use of all citizens.  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.

Blessed Mother Teresa, together with the martyrs who witnessed to their faith – to whom we pray and offer our appreciation – most certainly are rejoicing in heaven because of the work of men and women of good will who contribute to the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania.

Today, however, new challenges arise which must be faced.  In a world that tends to economic and cultural globalization, 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.  Furthermore, such development will only be authentic if it is sustainable and just, that is, if it has the rights of the poor and respect for the environment close to heart.  Alongside the globalization of the markets there must also be a corresponding globalization of solidarity; together with economic growth there must be a greater respect for creation; alongside the rights of individuals, there must be the guaranteed rights of those who are a bridge between the individual and the state, the family being 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. 

I offer my heartfelt gratitude to each of you for your gracious welcome, and, as Saint John Paul II did in April 1993, I invoke upon Albania the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people.  May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania.

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in Albania

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has arrived in Albania. The one-day apostolic visit is his first to a European Nation since the beginning of his Papacy in March 2013.

The Papal plane touched down at the International “Mother Teresa” Airport in Tirana shortly before schedule at 9am.

The Apostolic Nuncio and other religious authorities boarded the plane to welcome him, while the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, was awaiting him in the airport.

Pope Francis’ day in Tirana continues with a welcoming ceremony in the Presidential Palace and a meeting with the Head of State, Bujar Nishani. This will be followed by a meeting with Albanian civil and religious authorities, including the diplomatic corps and some of religious leaders.

The highlight of the morning is the Mass in Tirana's Mother Teresa Square and the recitation of the Angelus.

Following lunch with the bishops at the Apostolic Nunciature, the Pope is scheduled to meet with religious leaders of the six major religious denominations present in the nation. He will then travel to the Cathedral of Tirana to celebrate Vespers, and before boarding the plane to return to the Vatican, he will visit  the "Betania" Home for the disabled.

After the farewell ceremony at Tirana airport, Pope Francis is scheduled to touch down in Rome 9.30pm.

 

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Program of the Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to Tirana (Albania) – 21 September 2014

APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO TIRANA (ALBANIA)
(21 September 2014)

PROGRAM

Logo - Viaggio Apostolico a Tirana (Albania), 21.IX.2014

Live video transmission by CTV

(Vatican Television Center)

Live CTV

Sunday, 21 September 2014

7:30 Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport for Tirana
9:00 Arrival at "Mother Teresa" International Airport in Tirana
Official welcoming by the Prime Minister, Edi Rama

9:30 Welcoming ceremony in the square in front of the Presidential Palace
Courtesy visit to the President of the Republic in the Green Room of the Presidential Palace

10:00 Meeting with the civil authorities in the Reception Room of the Presidential Palace Address of the Holy Father
11:00 Holy Mass in Mother Teresa Square Homily of the Holy Father
Prayer of the Angelus Domini Words of the Holy Father
13:30 Meeting and luncheon with the Albanian Bishops and the Papal Entourage at the Apostolic Nunciature
16:00 Meeting with the leaders of other religions and other Christian denominations at the Catholic University "Our Lady of Good Counsel" Address of the Holy Father
17:00 Celebration of Vespers with priests, men and women religious, seminarians and various lay movements in the Cathedral of Tirana Address of the Holy Father
18:30 Meeting with the children of the "Centro Betania" and the representatives from other charitable centers of Albania in the church of the "Centro Betania" Address of the Holy Father
19:45 Farewell ceremony at "Mother Teresa" International Airport of Tirana
20:00 Departure from Tirana for Rome's Ciampino Airport
21:30 Arrival at Ciampino Airport in Rome

Time Lag

Rome: +2 UTC
Tirana: +2 UTC