VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis said on Sunday his first trip to a European country would be to Albania in September to pay tribute to those who suffered under communism.
He will make a day trip to Tirana, the capital of one of Europe’s poorest countries, on September 21, he told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square.
The Vatican spokesman said the pope wanted his first trip in Europe to be to a “country on the margins” with a past of social and religious persecution and continuing poverty.
Former dictator Enver Hoxha proclaimed Albania, for decades one of the world’s most isolated countries, the world’s first atheist state in 1967. Many mosques, churches and religious libraries were destroyed and imams and priests were arrested.
Francis said he wanted to make the trip to “encourage a country that has long suffered from the consequences of the ideologies of the past”.
Communism collapsed in Albania in 1992 and the late Pope John Paul II visited the following year.
Francis, elected in March 2013, has made two international trips, to Brazil and the Middle East. He is due to visit South Korea in August and Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Ralph Boulton