By Alba Prifti and Steve Almasy, CNN
September 21, 2014 — Updated 2210 GMT (0610 HKT)
- NEW: No one can act as the “armor of God,” Pope Francis says
- NEW: Pontiff says Albania is an example of how people of different religions can live together
- NEW: Francis doesn’t mention any militant group by name
- Religious freedom is relatively new in the country with a large Muslim population
(CNN) — During a trip to the mostly Muslim nation of Albania, Pope Francis rebuked militants who act in the name of religion, saying no one can act as the “armor of God.”
The Pope lauded Albanians during a visit to the capital of Tirana, calling the Balkan nation one that proves “a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.”
The pontiff didn’t refer to any militant group by name. He denounced those who have perverted religious spirit and who are engaged in violence that prevents harmony between people of different faiths.
Last month, he denounced ISIS, the Islamist militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. He called ISIS an “unjust aggressor”
On Sunday, he again spoke harshly against religious warriors.
“Let no one consider themselves to be the ‘armor’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression,” Pope Francis told diplomats at the presidential palace. “May no one use religion 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.”
The pontiff pointed to the religious peace in Albania, a country relatively new to the concept of religious freedom. The population is 56% Muslim, 10% Catholic and 7% Orthodox, according to the CIA Factbook. The climate of respect and trust between those groups is a “precious gift,” the pontiff said.
It has been two decades since a Pope last visited Albania, which is a short distance from Italy, just across the Adriatic Sea. The day-long visit is the first for Francis to another European country since he became Pope.
On his way to the palace, he rode through the streets past multitudes of cheering fans and onlookers in an open Pope mobile.
Later the Pope celebrated Mass on Mother Teresa Square.
Many see Pope Francis’ visit as support for the country’s efforts to grow closer to the West and its wish to join the European Union. Albania was a Soviet satellite state before the fall of European communism at the end of the Cold War.
It has been a democratic republic for 24 years.