Pope to visit Albania

Sunni, Orthodox, Bektashi, and Catholic leaders in Albania

Pope Francis will spend 11 hours in Albania on Sunday on his first visit to a European country outside of Italy. It will be the second visit of a Pope to Albania, after Pope St John Paul II’s visit to the country in 1993, although three Popes (Saints Eleutherius and Caius, and Pope John IV) were born in the country.

The Pope’s trip will begin at Tirana’s Mother Teresa international airport where he will be welcomed by Prime Minister Edi Rama. He will then travel to the Presidential Palace to meet the President, Bujar Nishani and representatives of the civil authorities.

When he greets crowds in Albania, Pope Francis will use the same open-topped vehicle he uses in St Peter's Square, despite some fears for his safety. Iraq’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Habeeb Al Sadr, has warned that the Holy Father could be targeted by ISIS militants during his visit, but his spokesman, Fr Frederico Lombardi SJ told journalists that while there is general concern about the Islamic State threat, "there are no specific threats or risks that would change the Pope's behaviour or the way the trip is organised”.

Sunday Mass will be celebrated by the Pope in Mother Teresa Square, after which he will recite the Angelus before lunching with Albania’s bishops at the Apostolic Nuciature. This will be followed by a meeting with leaders of other religions and other Christian denominations at the Catholic University of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Islam is the religion of 59% of the population, with Christians accounting for 17%.

In the evening, the Holy Father will travel to the Cathedral of St Paul to celebrate Vespers with priests, religious sisters and brothers, seminarians and members of various lay movements. Pope Francis’ visit to Albania will conclude with a visit to the Centro Betania (Bethany Association), where he will meet children who are victims of poverty, neglect or abuse, along with representatives from other charitable organisations in Albania.

Photo: Albanian faith leaders - Sunni, Orthodox, Bektashi, and Catholic (Wikipedia)