After a quick flight over the Adriatic Sea, Francis will spend 11 hours in the predominantly Muslim country. He’ll meet the nation’s leaders and bishops, representatives of other religions and Christian denominations, disadvantaged children and others assisted by Catholic charitable organizations. He will also celebrate mass in a central square of the capital and lead a vespers ceremony.
But before he goes, here are five things to keep in mind:
1. No Extra Security
Despite security concerns in the media, he’s taking no extra security.
Last week, Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See, Habeeb Al Sadr, told an Italian newspaper that “the Pope is indeed a target” of the militant group ISIS. Italian news outlets also reported that Albanian authorities were concerned about Muslim extremists who trained in Iraq and Syriaand that they may have returned to that country to carry out attacks.
The Italian state security was doubled around St. Peter’s Square this week as a precaution, but the Vatican said they had not increased the Pope’s security on the trip because there have been no specific threats. Vatican spokesman Rev. Frederico Lombardi told reporters Monday, “We are obviously paying attention but there is no need for concern or a change to his program in Albania.”
Francis will even travel in his open-topped Pope Mobile to Mass as is his custom on oversees trips.
2. A Message of ‘Coexistence’
For his fourth international trip, Francis chose a country whose population is not predominantly Catholic, like some other European states, but predominantly Muslim. Some 60 percent of Albanians are Muslim, while only 15 percent are believed to be Catholic. The Vatican hopes the trip will offer a message of coexistence and dialogue between different religions.
Francis is expected to make a trip to Turkey at the end of November.
3. ‘Rekindle the Faith’
For most of the 20th century, Albania was under an atheist Communist dictatorship where many clergy and believers were tortured and executed for their beliefs. More than 1,000 churches totally razed.
A cause is underway for the sainthood of 40 Albanian martyrs from this period in the country’s history.
After the Cold War ended, Saint Pope John Paul II was the first pope to ever visit Albania, doing so in 1993. During his trip, he “practically re-established the [Catholic] hierarchy” after the communist dictatorship by ordaining four bishops to lead the church there, according to Lombardi.
Francis is expected to honor those who were “martyrs for the faith who lived in Albania, the victims of atheistic Communism,” said Lombardi. The trip is meant to encourage those who have rekindled the faith and kept it alive through persecution by commemorating those who were persecuted under communism.