On September 21st, the Pope is scheduled to travel to Albania. He made the surprise announcement during a Sunday Angelus.
POPE FRANCIS (June 15th)
“With this brief trip, I want to strengthen the faith of the Church in Albania. I want to show my support and love for a country that has suffered the consequences of past ideologies, for a very long time.”
Photo credits: Wikimedia
That suffering Pope Francis was referring to, dates back decades. The country lived through Italy’s Fascism and also, Nazi rule. For almost 40 years, it had a communist dictatorship. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, directly saw the effects this had on the country and its people.
ARCH. V. PAGLIA (Pontifical Council for the Family, President)
“I was the first Catholic priest to be allowed in Albania. It was March 13, 1991. At that point, there hadn’t been free elections under the regime. The country was terrified.”
In 1991, John Paul II sent in three priests, who could assess the standing of the Church, after years of persecution.
ARCH. V. PAGLIA: “It was the only state in the world, where the constitution outright banned any type of religious gathering. All priests were in concentration camps. There was only one Bishop, who I actually visited. They set him free, after 19 years of imprisonment, where he was forced to live in a house full of sheep.”
Parishes, he says were closed or turned into warehouses, garages or theaters. Christians prayed in secret, or else they faced persecution. But now, years later Archbishop Paglia visited the country in light of the Pope’s upcoming visit. He says, it’s a much different situation now.
ARCH. V. PAGLIA: “I’ve noticed an enthusiasm from everyone: Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims. They see the Pope as the spiritual leader of humanity.”
Albania will actually be the first European country the Pope visits. It’s a very symbolic trip, given the fact that just 20 years ago, Christians faced jailed time, for wearing a cross around their neck.