Pope Francis with representatives of Albania’s Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communities, at the Catholic University “Our Lady of Good Counsel” in Tirana, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Pope Francis has called on moderate Muslims and all religious leaders to condemn Islamic extremists who “pervert” religion to justify violence, as he visited Albania and held it up as a model for interfaith harmony.

In a speech to ambassadors to the Holy See on Monday, Pope Francis praised the coexistence among different faiths in Albania, which he witnessed during his trip to Tirana.

At a time of strained relations between Muslims and majority communities in Europe, the Roman Pontiff has singled out Albania as a country where different faiths coexist more happily.

“I experienced an eloquent sign that the culture of encounter is possible during my visit to Albania, a nation full of young people who represent hope for the future,” Francis told diplomats at the Vatican.

“Despite the painful events of its recent history, the country is marked by the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims,” he added.

The Pope visited Albanian on September 22nd, and was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets of Tirana to hear his message of interfaith harmony.

On his visit to Albania, Francis met and exchanged gifts with representatives of all the country’s religious communities and praised the dialogue and respect held between faiths in Albania.

Huge crowds meanwhile attended his public mass in Tirana’s Mother Teresa Square.

Albania has the highest proportion of Muslims of any country in Europe. Only a tenth of the population is Catholic. In the last census, in 2011, slightly more than half of people declared themselves to be Sunni Muslims.

The remainder was divided between Orthodox Christians, Sufi sects, dominated by the Bektashis, and smaller numbers of atheists and Evangelical Christians.

At the Vatican on Monday, the Pope noted that religiously motivated violence was not present when faith was sincere and not used as pretext to rule over others.

“This is an important sign that sincere faith in God makes one open to others, generates dialogue and works for the good, whereas violence is always the product of a falsification of religion, its use as a pretext for ideological schemes whose only goal is power over others.”

By Besar Likmeta