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Pope's First Papal Visit To Europe Lands Him In... Albania?

The Pope marked his first visit to another European country by traveling to Albania where he praised the Balkan nation for its religious tolerance.
Posted at 1:24 PM, Sep 21, 2014

In 1979 Pope John Paul II made his first official trip to another European country by going to Poland.

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI’s first major visit to another European country was to Germany. 

And Sunday, Pope Francis made his first trip to another European country, but, somewhat like his papacy, his first destination was a little more unorthodox.

DELIA GALLAGHER VIA CNN: “One might think of France or Germany or some of the European powerhouses that the Pope might visit first but instead he chose Albania.”

Situated across the Adriatic Sea, Albania is only a short distance from Rome, but the country came as a surprise due to it’s predominantly Muslim population.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, 56 percent of the Balkan country is Muslim with a 10 percent Roman Catholic minority. Religious freedom is relatively new to the country, only being established 1990.

Praising the coexistence of the religious communities in Albania, the BBC quotes the Pope as saying the mutual respect between Muslims and Christians was a “precious gift.”

In his homily, he paid respect to the religious men and women who were persecuted under Communist rule in Albania in the past, calling Albania “a land of martyrs.”

Along with Muslim-Christian coexistence, the Pope’s visit also highlighted Mother Teresa, who was an Albanian herself, by celebrating Mass in Mother Teresa sq  are in Albania’s capital.

And in an apparent reference to ISIS in the Middle East, Pope Francis denounced religious extremists who use religion as an excuse for violence and said no one should consider themselves the “armor” of God. (Video via HLN)

That reference to religious extremists comes a few days after The Telegraph reported ISIS could target the Pope during his Albanian visit — despite no evidence suggesting any such plot. As he often does, Pope Francis elected to continue using his open air Popemobile.

The Pope is scheduled to visit both Turkey and France in November. Future plans involve visiting the U.S. in September  2015.

This video includes images from Getty Images.