The Ambassador for Human Rights of the World Evangelical Alliance and Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Schirrmacher, had a very positive assessment of the Pope’s visit to Albania. At the invitation of the President of Albania, Bujar Hishani, he took part in the reception for the Pope, and during his visit he held discussions with the most important Christian and Muslim leaders.
Schirrmacher especially endorsed the fact that at the reception the Pope so explicitly renounced any use of force in the name of God, and that by his visit the Pope emphasized that Christians are thankful to Muslims when Muslims guarantee the peace and freedom of Christians wherever Muslims form the majority in a land.
The president of Albania had already invited Schirrmacher a few days in advance for preparatory discussions for the Pope’s visit. At that time Schirrmacher emphasized that Albania has established an outstanding paradigm of a Muslim-majority land that insures full religious freedom for Christians. Both agreed that worldwide developments mean that European politicians and lands that support democracy and human rights should get much more intensively involved in the support of democracy and human rights. That this leads to real benefits is shown by the Albania’s new status as a candidate for EU membership. The president also reached an agreement with the International Institute for Religious Freedom to have the implementation of religious freedom in Albania carefully researched. Schirrmacher was accompanied in the meetings by the General Secretary of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance, Akil Pano.
Among others Schirrmacher met with the Grand Mufti of Albania, Skënder Bruçaj, with the world leader of the Muslim Sufi Bektashi Order, Haxhi Baba Edmond Brahimaj, with the seven Catholic bishops in the land, with the board of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance, and with Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, head of the autocephalous Orthodox Church, the largest Christian confession in Albania.
By means of his wide-ranging program of visits Schirrmacher wants to make very clear that Evangelicals are not standing on the sideline when religions work together to promote peace and freedom in a land and want to support the government in this direction. Specifically he said, “We cannot only criticize others when things go poorly but we have to support and praise those who really get it right.”
Schirrmacher has had a long term friendship with the Archbishop of Albania. And the relation of the Orthodox Church to the Albanian Evangelical Alliance is regarded as quite good. The members of the churches in the evangelical alliance are almost entirely former Muslims who became Christians since the renewed independence of the country in 1990. The Archbishop spent many years as chairman of the Commission on World Missions and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches and is regarded as an important theorist of Christian missions. For him freedom of religion in Albania includes the freedom to change religions, even from Islam to Christianity, and he has been publicly engaged to this end since 1990.
- Thomas Schirrmacher, Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, Akil Pano, General Secretary of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance
- Thomas Schirrmacher preaching in an Evangelical Church in Albania
- Pope Francis during his trip through Tirana