If I were 20, I’d probably say “Pope Francis is cool”, but because I’m not, the best description of his day trip to Albania today, September 21, is that he really is the ‘pontiff of the poor’.
In choosing this small, impoverished Balkan country for his first engagement with Europe, this Pope clearly wants to retain his church’s focus on the marginalized.
As also to celebrate a very Albanian lesson – at a critical time for religious tolerance across the world – that harmony is the best form of worship. For, in the aftermath of the Hoxha dictatorship, Catholicism has revived exceedingly well in Albania and now co-exists peacefully with Islam, even as the state casts itself as a secular entity.
My esteemed friend Gezim Alpion, who’s of Albanian ethnicity and teaches sociology at the University of Birmingham, says that even though Albania has been the cradle of Christianity in Europe from the time of the apostles, it wears religion wisely and its “people have never suffered from religious conflicts amongst themselves.”
As an expert on Mother Teresa, Gezim says he hopes the Pope will use his visit to the land of her birth to announce her canonization. Her focus was the damned and the disinherited. One that chimes with a Pope who wants to return the church’s central message to salvation in Christ, rather than ‘culture war’ issues such as like abortion, homosexuality and contraception.
He may have a point.