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Pope Francis chooses Albania for his first European trip

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Pope Francis chooses Albania for his first European trip
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Authorities in the Albanian capital Tirana have been preparing to welcome Pope Francis on his first visit to a European country.

Catholicism has regained its place in the largely secular nation, where Islam has the widest following.

It is a significant visit since under the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, between 1944 and 1985, Catholic priests were persecuted, and he banned all religion outright in 1967.

“It is of no importance in my case whether I am Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim”, said one local resident Ksenofon Dilo, “the Pope is coming to see our country, a country that has suffered a lot, and he is coming to say many things, including telling us to preserve the peaceful coexistence of different faiths”.

A chapel in Derven, 30 kilometres north of the capital, is seen as a symbol of that harmony. It was rebuilt for the third time last year with the help of 15 local Muslim families.

“Albania is a wonderful example of this harmony and Pope Francis is coming to confirm this harmony, peace and brotherly love among believers’‘, said parish priest Carmine Leuzzi.

Catholics only make up around 10 percent of of the population in Albania, but they see this visit as an affirmation their desire to reunite with a wider Europe after so many years of isolation during the communist era.