VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis will make a one-day trip to Albania in September to encourage a country that "long suffered" under a communist dictatorship which tried to isolate its citizens from the world.
Tens of thousands of impoverished Albanians fled to Italy in the 1990s, crossing the Adriatic Sea in crammed ferries and fishing boats as the regime in Tirana crumbled. Many of the migrants have since integrated into Italian life.
Francis told faithful Sunday in St. Peter's Square he would also use his Sept. 21 visit to express support for Albania's tiny minority Catholic community.
About two-thirds of Albania's 3.2 million people are Muslim and they live peacefully with the smaller Orthodox and Catholic communities. Albanians were not allowed to practice any religion under communist rule from 1967 to 1990.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the pope's visit would promote "the values of co-existence in peace among faiths and ethnicities."
It will be the second papal visit to post-communist Albania after one by Pope John Paul II in 1993.
Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana.