Tirana (AsiaNews) - Religious freedom, which Albania regained after the period of Communist dictatorship, is good not only for believers, but for society as a whole, including non-believers, a bulwark against all forms of totalitarianism, said Pope Francis today when around 4 pm he met with representatives of the country's six major religions and Christian denominations.
Representatives from the Muslim, Bektashi (Sufi), Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical and Jewish communities attended a meeting with the pope, his entourage and the president of the Albanian Bishops' Conference, Mgr Angelo Massafra, bishop of Scutari-Pult.
In his address, the pontiff talked about Albania's violent and atheist past. "When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated. You know well how much pain comes from the denial of freedom of conscience and of religious freedom, and how from such a wound comes a humanity that is impoverished because it lacks hope and ideals to guide it."
Appreciating the religious freedom that is enjoyed today in the country, the Pope pointed out that "religious freedom is not a right which can be guaranteed solely by existing legislation, although laws are necessary. Rather religious freedom is a shared space, an atmosphere of respect and cooperation that must be built with everyone's participation, even those who have no religious convictions."
In this regard, he quoted from a speech Pope John Paul II gave during his visit to Albania in '93. "Religious freedom," the late pontiff said, "is not only a precious gift from the Lord for those who have faith: it is a gift for each person, because it is the basic guarantee of every other expression of freedom [...]. Only faith reminds us that, if we have one Creator, we are therefore all brothers and sisters. Religious freedom is a safeguard against all forms of totalitarianism and contributes decisively to human fraternity."
Two attitudes are needed to promote religious freedom. "The first attitude is that of regarding every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions, not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters. When a person is secure of his or her own beliefs, there is no need to impose or put pressure on others: there is a conviction that truth has its own power of attraction."
"The second attitude which fosters the promotion of religious freedom is the work done in service of 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. This presents itself not only as a space in which to legitimately defend one's autonomy, but also as a potential that enriches the human family as it advances. The more men and women are at the service of others, the greater their freedom! Let us look around us: there are so many poor and needy people, so many societies that try to find a more inclusive way of social justice and path of economic development!"
Towards the end, Pope Francis spoke off the cuff to emphasise how dialogue between religions is only possible starting from one's own identity, against all forms of relativism. He said that we should not hide one's identity, nor "pretend to have another one, or a mask . . . That would be relativism. One's own identity is offered to another to walk together, far from hypocrisy."
"Dear friends," he said in concluding, "I encourage you to maintain and develop the tradition of good relations among the various religious communities in Albania, and to be united in serving your beloved homeland. 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. And pray also for me. May God bless you all."