Pope, on trip to mainly Muslim Albania, condemns Islamist militants

Sun Sep 21, 2014 6:43pm EDT
 
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By Philip Pullella and Benet Koleka

TIRANA Albania (Reuters) - Pope Francis, in his strongest criticism of Islamist militants to date, said on Sunday no religious group which used violence and oppression could claim to be "the armor of God".

Francis made his comments during a one-day visit to Albania, an impoverished Balkan country hailed by the pontiff as a model of inter-faith harmony because of good relations between its majority Muslim community and its Christian denominations.

"Let no one consider themselves the 'armor' of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression," he said in the presidential palace in Tirana, responding to an address by Albanian President Bujar Nishani, who is Muslim.

"May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all to the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom," he said.

Francis, on his first trip as pope to a European country outside Italy, made no direct reference to Islamic State militants who have seized territory in Syria and Iraq, but it was clear he had events in the Middle East in mind.

About 70,000 Syrian Kurds have fled into Turkey since Friday as Islamic State militants seized dozens of villages close to the border. A Kurdish politician from Turkey said local people had told him the militants were beheading people as they went from village to village.

Islamic State has declared a "caliphate" in the territories they control and have killed or driven out large numbers of Christians, Shi'ite Muslims and others who do not subscribe to their hardline version of Sunni Islam.

Asked specifically about Islamic State last month when returning from a trip to South Korea, Francis endorsed action by the international community to stop "unjust aggression".   Continued...

 
Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with representatives of Albania's Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communities, at the Catholic University "Our Lady of Good Counsel" in Tirana, September 21, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool