Pope Francis used the occasion of a visit to mostly Muslim Albania to call upon Muslims and their religious leaders to condemn Islamic extremists who “pervert” religion to justify violence.
“To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege,” Francis told representatives of Muslim, Orthodox Christian and Catholic communities in Tirana, the capital of the formerly Communist nation.
Francis made his comments as he recalled the brutal persecution people of all faiths suffered when Albania was behind the Iron Curtain.
Francis wept when he heard the testimony of one priest, the Rev. Ernest Troshani, 84, who for 28 years was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to forced labor for refusing to speak out against the Catholic Church, as his captors wanted.
“Today I touched the martyrs,” Francis said after embracing the man.
Security was unusually tight for the Pope’s first trip to a majority Muslim country since ISIS terrorists began their brutality in Syria and Iraq — including the murder of Christians.
Francis opened his speech by saying that Albania’s current state of interreligious harmony was an “inspiring example” for the world, showing that Christian-Muslim coexistence wasn’t only possible but beneficial for a country’s development.
“This is especially the case in these times in which authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups,” he said, referring to ISIS.
“Let no one consider themselves to be the ‘armor’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!” Francis said.
Francis has said in the last few weeks that it was legitimate to use force to stop the Islamic extremists, but that the international community should be consulted on how to do so. Last month, the Vatican’s Muslim relations office issued a statement condemning ISIS’ atrocities and calling on religious leaders, particularly Muslims, to use their influence to stop them.
The extremists’ advance is of particular concern to the Vatican given the exodus of faithful from lands where Christian communities have existed for 2,000 years.
Addressing Muslim and other religious leaders in another speech at a Catholic university Sunday, Francis said religious intolerance was a “particularly insidious enemy” that was evident in many parts of the world today.
“All believers must be particularly vigilant so that, in living out with conviction our religious and ethical code, we may always express the mystery we intend to honor,” he said.
“This means that all those forms which present a distorted use of religion must be firmly refuted as false since they are unworthy of God or humanity.”