Posted on Sunday, September 21st, 2014 and is filed under International News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Pope Francis was met by big crowds in the capital, Tirana

MT NEWS: Tens of thousands of Albanians of all faiths are attending an open air Mass being celebrated by Pope Francis in the capital, Tirana.

The pontiff earlier praised religious coexistence in mainly-Muslim Albania as a model for other countries.

The Pope also denounced the “perversion” of religion around the world to justify violence.

Security is tight during his visit, but the Vatican has played down rumours of a jihadist plot against him.

During a meeting with top Albanian government officials, Pope Francis hailed as a “precious gift” the mutual respect between Muslims and Christians in the country.

“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!”

This is seen as an apparent reference to Islamic State militants who have seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq, persecuting different religious groups there.

After the Mass, the pontiff is expected to meet Albania’s religious leaders.

This is the Pope’s first trip to a European country outside Italy since he took office in 2013.

He earlier said he wanted to visit the Balkan nation because it had “suffered very, very much”.

Albania’s former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha banned religion in the country, which was virtually isolated from the rest of the world.

A number of Catholic priests were executed and some 2,000 churches and many mosques were either destroyed or turned into cinemas or dance halls during Hoxha’s rule, which lasted for more than 40 years until his death in 1985.

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