PONTIFICAL COUNCIL for INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
Interview on the plane on the return trip to Rome
September 21, 2014
Your Holiness set out with a certain idea of Albanians, of Albania. How Albanians have suffered but are also tolerant. Did you find any other qualities in the Albanians which you met? Are these qualities the right ones to make the eagle return to the nest?
I would say that I came to a better understanding of those things you mentioned, but I was also able to see at close hand the suffering which you Albanians endured. The matter of tolerance… I would put it differently. Albanians are not so much “tolerant” – they are brothers and sisters. They have the ability to be brothers and sisters: and that is something more important. And this is evident in the way they live with one another, in the cooperation between Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics. They cooperate, but as brothers and sisters, no? Another thing which struck me from the beginning is how young the country is. After I noted this, I was told that it is the youngest country of Europe. But Albania has, it is clear, a superior development in culture and also in governance, thanks to this brotherhood.
Your Holiness, what were your emotions as you drove down the central boulevard of Tirana, under the pictures of the clergy who were martyred during the communist regime, in a country in which until twenty-five years ago atheism had been officially imposed?
For two months I have been working to understand that difficult period in Albania; I tried to understand how it began. But from the beginning you [also] have beautiful, strong cultural roots, a great culture. I tried to understand this and it was a cruel period; the level of cruelty was horrible. When I saw those photographs (and there were not only Catholics, but Orthodox also Muslims as well…) and I thought of how they were told that they could not believe in God… [and when they said:] “I do believe in God”, they were immediately executed. So I would say that all three religious groups bore witness to God and now they are bearing witness to brotherhood.
Your Holiness, you visited Albania, which is a country with a Muslim majority. But your visit took place at a very uncertain time in our world. You yourself have said that the third world war has already begun. Is the message of your visit for Albanians alone, or for others too?
No, it is for others too. It is broader. Albania has taken the route of peace, coexistence and cooperation, which extends to other countries which also have various ethnic roots. You said that it is a country with a Muslim majority. True, but it is not a Muslim country; it is a European country. This was a surprise to me. Albania is a European country precisely because of its culture – the culture of coexistence, also its past culture.