IBNA Special Report/
See the photos at the end of the report
Tirana, September 21, 2014/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Edison Kurani
Furthermore, the Pope set off toward Tirana, in order to start his 11 hour agenda to Albania.
Many citizens have been staying for hours at the “Martyrs of the Nation” boulevard, which was decorated for this visit, waiting for the pope. Since yesterday, tens of buses from different regions of Albania and outside it, arrived to Tirana in order to be near the Pope and follow his mass.
President Nishani: We’re the people of Mother Teresa
The Pope started his official meetings at the Albanian Presidency, where he was received by the head of the state, Bujar Nishani.
In the speech delivered after the meeting with the Pope, the President declared that this is a great historical event for the nation, the country and Albanians everywhere they are.
“We, Albanians are the oldest nation with strong national awareness and we pray to God in different ways. Our spiritual edifice consists of Christianity and Islam. There’s no discrimination among us, there’s no intolerance, no extremism, but there’s mutual respect inherited generation after generation, harmony and equality guaranteed by the Constitution of our laic state”, said Nishani.
The Head of the State said that the Albanian people has resisted in a heroic way and recalled the last words of Albanian Catholics before their execution: “Long live Albania, long live the Pope!”
“In the name of the binomial, fatherland and religion, there were tens of clerics who gave their life. We are the people of Mother Teresa”, said the President.
Pope: Albanians sacrificed their life in the name of religion
President Nishani’s speech was followed by Pope Francis who said that he felt happy that he’s in the humble land of Albanian heroes. “Albanians sacrificed their life in the name of religion. Thank you for your festive reception in the country which is known as the land of eagles”.
The Pope said that the new reality gives us an opportunity to head toward the future with faith in order to build new realities.
“Respect for human rights, cultural diversity, social development of a country, must be respected. Rights must be accepted and respected by all, but this must also be done through interaction between human communities. Albanians have an asset which they must well preserve, respect and consideration between Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox and it deserves a special attention in these times when extremist groups are desecrating the true value of a religious cohabitation, pointing out the differences. Instead of having dialogue and respect to reflect the common good, which means believing in God, nobody must use the strength of God to inspire violent acts and nobody must use religion as a pretext to express different opinions”, said the Pope.
The meeting with the president was followed by the Pope’s itinerary to “Mother Teresa” square. Currently, the Pope is holding the special mass.
During this visit, the Holly Father is aiming to honor the martyrs of religion that lived at that time in the atheist communist Albania and encourage cross religious dialogue, without leaving political dialogue aside.
Portraits of 40 martyrs, catholic and orthodox martyrs who died in the name of religion, have decorated for a few days the Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard in Tirana, along with the portraits of the Pope, Vatican flags and national flags.
According to the Press Center of the Catholic Church, over 1200 foreign journalists have been accredited.
The Apostolic Pilgrimage of Pope Francis in Tirana, is the second one of a pope in Albania. The first one was that of John Paul in April 25, 1993. This visit came two years after the fall of the dictatorship regime and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Republic of Albania.
The Pilgrimage, which lasted 14 hours, culminated in Shkoder, the city with the largest number of Catholics in Albania. In the cathedral of the Northern City, which had been turned by the communist regime into a house of sports (1967), Pope Wojtyla celebrated the Mass, blessed the first foundation stone on which the national Saint of the Lady of Good Council (built on the XV century, destroyed by Turks on 1479, reconstructed on 1895, destroyed again on 1967) would stand on and he ordained the first four archbishops, among which Mon Signor Rrok Miredita, today’s archbishop of Tirana and Durres.
According to official statistics, Albania is dominated by the Muslim and Christian religion. Around 65% of the population is estimated to belong to the Muslim religion, while in terms of the Christian religion, around 20% are orthodox and 10% are Catholic.
Pope: Albania, the country where communism destroyed 1820 churches
Albania is the first country that the Holly Father visits in Europe and the fourth one in the world, after Brazil, Holly Land and South Korea. “With this short pilgrimage, I want to strengthen the Church of Albania and show my encouragement to a country that suffered a long time, as a result of the ideology of the past”, wrote the Holly Father in response to the invitation of the archbishops and state authorities of Albania.
Pope Francis prayed last night in the Great St. Mary for his pilgrimage to Albania
Pope Francis went last evening (Saturday) to the roman Basilica of Great St. Mary in order to demand Mary her motherly protection on the occasion of his apostolic pilgrimage to Tirana, Albania, on Sunday September 21. The Holly Father prayed for half an hour in front of the figures of Lady Salus Populi Romani. The Pope’s prayer ended with the song “I pray to you o Queen”.
The décor of Tirana and the portraits of 40 Albanian martyrs
Every country that receives the Pope, decorates the roads with flags, in order to leave a very good impression. But, what may be noticed in Tirana are the papacy and national flags, but also large banners with the portraits of 40 Albanian martyrs.
The issue of the canonization of these servants of God, officially opened at a diocesan level in 2002 by cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, at that time, prefect of the Congregation of the Evangelization of People.
Ten years after the fall of communism in Albania, talking about the new Cathedral in Tirana, the cardinal made an appeal for the sacrifices of many martyrs of the religion not to be forgotten. “Here, bishops, priests, nuns and a number of people, including the weakest ones, were slaughtered”, said cardinal Sepe.
“This has not happened centuries ago, bur years ago”. Luigj Paliqi, a Franciscan priest, was killed in 1913. Father Gjon Gazulli in 1927. Others were killed during the long years of the communist atheist dictatorship oppression.
When their case was opened in 2002, the bishop of Tirana, Zef Simoni, said: “They shed their blood for the love of God Jesus Christ, by forgiving their murderers with all their heart”. The portraits in the “Martyrs of the Nation” Boulevard are stunning because they are the pictures of the actual people and no images of saints.
They are pictures of priests and seminarists, believers and laics, who underwent the terrible tortures and gave their life to Christ and His Church. The stories of their martyrdom seem to be the narrations of saints during the worst prosecution that they saw during the Roman pagan empire.
Tens of thousands of Catholics suffered as a result of their religion in Albania, especially in the years of the communist regime. 40 martyrs, the photos of which have been placed in the boulevard leading to “Mother Teresa” square, where Pope Francis will hold the Holly Mass of Sunday, represent all of those who preserved their faith in the church of silence.
Pope’s agenda during his stay in Albania
In today’s visit to Tirana, the Pope will be received by Prime Minister Edi Rama and the president of Republic, Bujar Nishani.
Mayor of Tirana and leader of opposition, Lulzim Basha will announce the Pope a Citizen of Honor and will symbolically hand him the key of the capital.
The Pope will then lead the mass on “Mother Theresa” square. He will lead it along with 2 cardinals, 18 bishops, 240 priests, 10 seminarists and 4 deacons. A group of ill people have been placed in front of the altar, as Pole Francis has always showed special care for them.
Participating in this mass are also several young people of the dioceses of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro and a number of people invited by the Catholic Church, among them senior state officials, diplomatic corps in Albania, believers and people who have been beside the Church in these 20 years.
In the afternoon, the Pope will have a meeting and lunch with Albanian bishops and with the papal retenue in the Apostolic Nunciature.
IBNA’s sources confirmed that in the premises of the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holly Father will meet with the Interior Minister, Sajmir Tahiri along with a group of collaborators of the Ministry of Interior. The reasons of this special meeting are not known.
In the evening, around 8 pm, the Pope will depart for Vatican through a ceremony. /ibna/