The key motives of Pope Francis’ visit to Albania next Sunday are to honor the martyrs who died under Albanian Communism, to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and to pay homage to Blessed Mother Teresa, a native of Albania.
This morning Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican Press Office, met with journalists and laid out these points for the Pope’s upcoming trip.
The process of beatification of 40 Albanian martyrs who died between 1913 and 1990 was initiated in November 2003. Thirty Eight of these were put to death under the Communist regime in the years 1945-1990.
Albania is predominantly Muslim, but has a significant Catholic population–some 15%–as well as Orthodox.
Father Lombardi also stated this morning that there were no plans to increase security for Pope Francis’ trip to this predominantly Muslim country despite new reports of a potential threat by Islamic militants.
“All of us are worried about what ISIS is doing,” Fr. Lombardi said, “but if the question is whether we are going to arrange something special to protect the Pope, or to increase the level of protection, I must say: no, we are not doing anything special.”
The Pope plans on riding in the same open Jeep used in Saint Peter’s Square, the reason being that he prefers to have unhindered access to the people.
Father Lombardi also reminded his listeners that Albania, which is now a democratic state, lived for decades under a brutal dictatorship and was the first country to formally embrace atheism in its constitution.
This past August 26, Archbishop Angelo Massafra, president of Albania’s Episcopal Conference, said that the faith of both Christians and Muslims was recovering from years under an atheistic regime.
Mother Teresa, though known worldwide as Teresa of Calcutta, was actually born in Albania. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died in 1997. She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910, and later took the name of Sister Teresa. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in the slums of Calcutta in 1950 and later won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
The process leading up to Teresa’s beatification was the shortest in modern history. She died in 1997 but her cause for beatification began less than two years later. Because of her immense popularity and renown for holiness, John Paul waived the five-year waiting period in early 1999 and allowed her cause to be started.
Francis’ trip to Albania will be the fourth of his pontificate, and his first visit to a European country outside Italy.