Pope: mutual respect is a 'precious gift'

On his first visit to a European country outside Italy, Pope Francis has praised the "peaceful coexistence" of religions in Albania, where a Muslim majority lives alongside Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

Tens of thousands of Albanians attended an open air Mass celebrated by the Holy Father in the capital, Tirana, and heard him denounce extremists around the world for "perverting" religion to justify violence.

In what many regarded as a reference to Islamic State militants, Pope Francis said on Sunday’s visit to Albania:  "To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman." He told government officials that he considered the mutual respect between Muslims and Christians in the country to be a "precious gift".Pope Francis is Mother Teresa Square, Tirana

The population of Albania is 60% Muslim, with Roman Catholics accounting for about 10%. Just below 10% are Orthodox Christians. Pope Francis said he had wanted to visit the Balkan nation because it had "suffered very, very much". During the 40-year rule of the country’s former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, religion was banned, Catholic priests were executed and some 2,000 churches and many mosques were either destroyed or turned into cinemas or dance halls. Hoxha died in 1985.

Addressing the leaders of Albania's religious communities, Pope Francis said that the name of God must not be used to commit violence. "This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups and where religious differences are being distorted," he said. "Let no-one consider themselves to be the 'armour' of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!"