Pope Francis traveled to Albania Sunday, the first European country to host the Pope on a public visit since he took office, a Vatican spokesman said.
On the day-long visit, the Pontiff stops at the presidential palace before holding mass on Mother Teresa Square in Albania’s capital, Tirana, according to his itinerary.
He rode through streets past cheering fans and onlookers in an open Pope mobile.
Albania, a country relatively new to religious freedom, is home to a largely Muslim population, a minority of Catholics and even smaller population of the Orthodox faith. It has been two decades since a Pope last visited Albania, which is located a short distance from Italy across the Adriatic Sea.
Many see Pope Francis’ visit as support for the country’s efforts to grow closer to the West and its wish to join the European Union. Albania is a former Soviet satellite state before the fall of European communism at the end of the Cold War.
Albania has been a democratic republic for 24 years and has seen harmonious coexistence of the three main religions, a point Pope Francis commended, according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
On the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Tirana, thousands of local residents had lined the main boulevard, where preparations continued into Sunday morning.