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TIRANA, Albania - Pope Francis denounced how extremists around the world are "perverting" religion to justify violence as he arrived Sunday in Albania, a Balkan nation where Christians and Muslims endured brutal religious oppression under communism but today live and work together peacefully. Security was unusually tight for Francis' visit to the majority Muslim country amid reports that militants who trained in Iraq and Syria had returned and might pose a threat.
In his opening speech, Francis said Albania's interreligious harmony was an "inspiring example" for the world, showing that Christian-Muslim coexistence was not only possible but beneficial for a country's development. "The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country," Francis said. "This is especially the case in these times in which authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups, and where religious differences are being distorted." It was Francis' first visit to a majority Muslim nation since the ISIS crackdown on Christians in Iraq. "Let no one consider themselves to be the 'armor' of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!" Francis said.