Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Pope praises brotherhood forged among Albania’s religions

Aboard the papal plane, Sep 22, 2014 / 11:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on the return flight from Albania praised the country for its youth and its “higher culture” that is “capable of building brotherhood” among Christia…

A delayed desire: Albanian priest waited decades for ordination

Tirana, Albania, Sep 22, 2014 / 07:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Albanian Catholic priest shared his story of encountering persecution for his faith by the country’s repressive state atheism, noting how he waited decades before his dream to be ordained was fulfilled.

“When I first said I wanted to be ‘like Him,’ a priest told me that it was a dark path to take, but I replied: ‘I see no darkness,’” Father Gjergj Simoni said.

In a Sept. 21 interview with CNA, he recalled feeling drawn to the priesthood at an early age.

“When my grandmother took me to Mass when I was six, and at the moment of the consecration, I had the feeling that I wanted to be like Jesus in the hand of that priest. I soon realized I wanted to be a priest, even if my dream did not come true for years.”

Pope Francis touched on Albania’s recent history of religious oppression several times throughout his one-day trip on Sunday. Albania lived under state-imposed atheism from 1967 to 1991, but priests and other religious leaders began to endure persecution when dictator Enver Hoxha took power in 1946.

The regime conducted a war against religions: almost 2,100 people, including Catholic priests and adherents of other religions, were brutally killed because of their religious beliefs.

Despite Fr. Simoni’s strong desire to be ordained, the day would not come until much later when Albania’s communist rule ended. He was the first Albanian priest to be ordained in decades on April 21, 1991.

Fr. Simoni was raised in a Catholic family – his brother, Zef Simoni, was ordained a priest during the 1960s and later consecrated a bishop.

“My brother ordained me,” Fr. Simoni said, noting that both of them were persecuted under the Enver Hoxha regime.

“My brother was a brilliant professor. He was also offered scholarships in the countries of the Soviet Union, but he refused. In 1958, he decided to enter the seminary. It was a secret seminary, since persecution had already begun,” he said.

Fr. Simoni said that he, too, studied to be a priest, but he was not ordained “in order to avoid problems.”

Though he was not a priest yet, he too suffered persecution from the regime. In 1967, he was arrested after police found sacred objects, books from the archbishop’s house and a book of poems he had written against the regime were found at his home.

“I had a house with a big garden, and I was asked to hide in my garden chalices and other sacred objects and books,” he said.

He agreed to hide the objects. He excavated a big hole in the garden and planted flowers on it in order to hide everything. However, someone saw him. He was reported to the authorities, who sent police to his house to search.

“They searched in my house and then outside in the garden for eight days. They also brought a metal detector, in order to find a chalice,” the priest recounted.

Fr. Simoni was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Now, decades later, Fr. Gjergj attended the Sept. 21 Mass with Pope Francis. He carried with him the book of poetry he had written and the book his brother, the late Bishop Zen Simoni, wrote about the Christian persecutions in Albania.

“During the 1991 synod of bishops, my brother reported about what happened in Albania to bishops from all over the world,” Fr. Simoni said.

Catholic-Muslim spouses say Pope Francis is for everybody

Tirana, Albania, Sep 22, 2014 / 02:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic-Muslim married couple who traveled three hours from Kosovo to take part in Pope Francis’ Albanian visit say that the Pope is “for everybody” regardless of religion….

Papal visit fosters Albanians’ hopes

Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 08:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ visit to Albania is a “gigantic event” for the religiously diverse country as it seeks a greater role in Europe, one leader at the country’s main Catholic …

Pope: Albanian martyrs knew God’s consolation

Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 03:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- God’s consolation for Albania’s martyrs and other persecuted Christians is a reminder for us all of the intimate consolation that God offers amid suffering, Pope Francis said at a S…

Faith brings light to hardship, Pope says

Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 12:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis visited an Albanian center for abandoned children on Sunday, emphasizing in his remarks that Christian charity can help bring oneself and others closer to God.

“This faith…

Truth has ‘power of attraction,’ Pope says to religious leaders

Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 09:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The “conviction that truth has its own power of attraction,” said Pope Francis, negates the need for those secure in their faith to impose their beliefs on others.

These were some of the remarks delivered during his meeting with the religious leaders of Albania as part of his Sept. 21 Apostolic Journey to the country.

Stressing the importance of promoting religious freedom, Pope Francis emphasized the need to foster an attitude which regards “every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions, not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters.”

“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…We need each other, and are entrusted to each other’s care.”

The Holy Father also spoke of the importance of promoting an attitude geared toward 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.”

“The more men and women are at the service of others,” he said, “the greater their freedom!”
Reflecting on societies which seek to bring aid to those poor and in need, Pope Francis exclaimed: “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!”

He noted how men and women, inspired by “the values of their respective religious traditions,” can offer their contributions. “This is truly a fertile land offering much fruit, also in the field of interreligious dialogue,” he said.

Pope Francis said that Saturday’s gathering of religious leaders, which took place in Our Lady of Good Council Catholic university, “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.”

“The violence and tragedy” which marks Albania’s past, he said, is such as 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,” the Holy Father continued, “it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated.”

Pope Francis acknowledged the suffering which religious communities in Albania faced when they were denied freedom of conscience and religion, “and how from such a wound comes a humanity that is impoverished because it lacks hope and ideals to guide it.”

Since the 1990s, a series of changes have been implemented in Albania which allow for the exercise of religious freedom. This freedom, the Pope said, has opened the possibility for each person, “according to their own religious convictions,” to contributed both to the moral and to the economic reconstruction of their country.

Citing Saint John Paul II’s words during his 1993 visit to Albania, Pope Francis noted that religious freedom is “a gift” which guarantees “every other expression of freedom,” safeguards “against all forms of totalitarianism, and contributes decisively to human fraternity.” (Message to the Albanian People, 25 April 1993).

Religious intolerance, the Holy Father continued, “is a particularly insidious enemy, one which today is being witnessed in various areas around the world.”

The living out of religious and ethical codes should always express “the mystery we intend to honor”; thus, “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.”
Pope Francis added that religious freedom cannot only be secured through legislation, but through “an atmosphere of respect and cooperation that must be built with everyone’s participation, even those who have no religious convictions.”

In off-the-cuff remarks toward the end of his address, the Pope stressed the need for dialogue that is rooted in truth. Dialogue that is not rooted in truth, he said, “would be a ghost dialogue, a dialogue of air.”

He added that we each have “our own personal identity”. Walking together while pretending to have another identity, however, is relativism. “Everyone of us offers witness of ones own identity to the other”; in this way, “dialogue can move forward on theological questions.” But, what is most important is walking together without betraying hope.”

Pope Francis concluded his address by encouraging the good relations among religious communities in Albania. “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,” he said. “And pray also for me. May God bless you all.”

Update in Albania – Muslims pray for Pope, security a non-issue

Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 06:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a press briefing Sunday the Vatican’s spokesman downplayed worries over Pope Francis’ safety in Albania, also noting that Muslims gathered in an important Tirana mosque to pray for the pontiff’s visit.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, told journalists that the Sept. 21 papal visit has been welcomed with joy by all the Albanian religious communities.

On why Pope Francis did not stop the popemobile as he often does to greet children and embrace those with illnesses, the spokesman insisted that this was “because he had to respect the schedule, and not because of increased security measures.”

“If the Pope would get down of the jeep and start greeting people as he does in St. Peter’s Square, it would be impossible to respect the schedule,” Fr. Lombardi said.

The priest also provided some background of the one-day trip, saying that the Pope had made several reflections that have then become part of his morning speeches.

Fr. Lombardi recounted that Pope Francis was sitting in the car together with David Gjugja, the director of the Albanian section of Vatican radio, who had served as interpreter for the visit.

“The Pope noticed that there were many young people greeting him and said he was impressed. This is how he focused even more than previewed on young people, with some off the cuff in his prepared speeches,” Fr. Lombardi said.

The director of the Holy See office also revealed that Pope Francis widely commented the symbol of eagle in the Albanian flag.

According to Fr. Lombardi, “the Pope observed that the eagle fly high, but then always get back to the nest. And he made the same observation at the end of the homily, when he said not to forget of the nest, and encourage people to fly high without parting from their roots.”

On the trip from the airport to Mother Teresa square where he celebrated Mass, Pope Francis also recalled his meeting with her.

“The Pope recounted he had known Mother Teresa in 1994, during the synod on the consecrated life they were both attending,” Fr. Lombardi said.

The Pope was among the leaders – at the time he was auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires –  while Mother Teresa was among the members of Papal appointment.

Fr. Lombardi said that “Pope Francis recounted that Mother Teresa was sitting behind him during the assembly, and that he admired the strength and determination of her interventions, which she held without any reverence toward the bishops.”

“I would have feared her, if she had been my superior,” the Pope joked.

The director of the Holy See Press Office also revealed the sentence Pope Francis wrote in the Golden Book of the presidential palace, where he met with state leaders earlier in the day.

The sentence was: “To the noble people of Albania, with my respect and admiration for their testimony and their fraternità in leading the country.”

In his address, the president of Albania Bujar Nishani reminded that coexistence is very important for the life of the country, underscored the deep relationship between the Holy See and Albania and – as a Muslim – expressed his view that the papal trip is a blessing for all the Albanian citizens.

“Speaking with Pope Francis, the president also stressed the need of respect to carry forward the Albanian harmony, and this is the reason why the Pope wanted to underline it with a short out of program in his speech at the presidential palace,” Fr. Lombardi said.

There are no official data for the participation to the Mass, but Fr. Lombardi said “it is credible that between 250,000 and 300,000 people have taken place to the celebrations,” and that they came by several countries, especially Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Pope Francis to Albanian youth: Where you exist, there is hope

Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 05:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After celebrating Mass at Mother Teresa square during his one-day trip to Albania, Pope Francis led the crowds in the angelus prayer, urging the country’s young people to live a life fully engaged with Christ.

“Dear young people, you are the new generation of Albania,” he said Sept. 21.“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,” he added, “’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 off-the-cuff comments shortly before in his homily at Mass, the Pope remarked on the number of young people he saw on the streets in Tirana while riding in the popemobile earlier.

“Where there are young people,” he emphasized, “there is always hope.”

Before leading the crowds in the angelus prayer, he said “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.”

“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.”

Pope Francis is in Albania, a one-day trip which marks his first apostolic journey to a European country since the start of his pontificate. Earlier in the day the Holy Father delivered an address to Albania’s leaders and the diplomatic corps, in which he praised the “coexistence” between members of different faiths in the country, while condemning those who “consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.”

After the angelus prayer, the pope is set to have lunch with Albania’s bishops at the Apostolic Nunciature. Later in the day he is expected to take part in an interfaith meeting with religious leaders at “Our Lady of Good Council” Catholic university. Pope Francis will conclude his visit by meeting with children at the “Centro Betania,” as well as representatives of charitable organizations in Albania.

Pope Francis: No one can use religion as a pretext for violence

Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis opened his trip to Albania praising the “coexistence” between members of different faiths in the country, while condemning those who “consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.”

“May no one use religion,” the Pope said, “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!”

Such trends 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.”

Addressing the scores of people gathered outside the presidential palace, where he was welcomed by Albania’s leaders and diplomatic corps, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the invitation to Albania, an nation he described as “a land of heroes” and “of martyrs.”

Acknowledging the efforts made over the past quarter century on a path towards “rediscovered freedom,” he stressed that “respect for human rights,” especially religious freedom and freedom of expression, “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,” the Pope said, “creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.”

The Holy Father praised the “peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions” as a “beautiful characteristic” of the country, adding that it is “an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement.”

Such coexistence, he said, must be “protected and nourished” through “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.”

Pope Francis lauded the “mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims” which exists as “a precious gift” to Albania, adding that that this trust is especially important at a time in which “authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized.”

He then added that this coexistence is “a gift” for which we need to pray. “May Albania always continue to walk this path, offering to other countries an inspiring example,” he said

Addressing Albania’s president, Bujar Nishani, the Pope acknowledged that “a winter of isolation and persecution” had ended in the country, and “the springtime of freedom has finally come.”

Through “free elections and new institutional structures,” he said, “a democratic pluralism has been consolidated which is now favouring economic activity.” Moreover, the “efforts and sacrifices” of the Albanian people “have improved the life of the nation in general,” he said.

Pope Francis went on to laud the re-establishing of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy in the country, thereby continuing its long-standing tradition. “Places of worship have been built or rebuilt,” he said, including the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Scutari, as well as schools and healthcare centers. “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.”

Pope Francis added that Blessed Mother Teresa, as well the martyrs of the country, are “most certainly are rejoicing in heaven” due to the work done towards “the flourishing of civil society and the Church in Albania.”

Turning to the challenges which stem from “economic and cultural globalization,” the Pope continued, “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.” He added that such development “will only be authentic” so long as it keeps in mind “the rights of the poor and respect for the environment.”

The Holy Father emphasized the need for a “greater respect for creation,” and for the rights of those who serve as a “bridge between the individual and the state,” stressing that family is “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,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded his address by recalling Saint John Paul II’s 1993 visit, invoking as he did the protection of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, and “entrusting to her the hopes of the entire Albanian people.”

“May God abundantly pour out his grace and blessing upon Albania.”

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