Vatican says no extra security for pope in Albania

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican says it's not taking any extra security measures to protect Pope Francis during his weekend trip to majority Muslim Albania despite reports of Islamic militants returning from the Mideast.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Monday that Francis would use the same open-topped vehicle he uses in St. Peter's Square when he greets crowds in the poor Balkan nation Sunday. Vatican security officials are "calm" ahead of the 11-hour visit, he said.

Francis has said he wanted to visit Albania to highlight the rebirth of Christianity that was brutally wiped out during communist rule, and to showcase how Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims are working together now to govern the country.

Italian news reports, citing unnamed sources, have said Albanian law enforcement had flagged to Interpol concerns that Muslim militants who trained in Iraq and Syria had returned and might pose a threat to Francis.

Lombardi said that while there is general concern about the Islamic State threat, "there are no specific threats or risks that would change the pope's behavior or the way the trip is organized."

Francis' decision to visit tiny Albania before any major European capital is in keeping with his desire for the church to go to the "periphery." It also confirms his desire to encourage once-persecuted Christian communities.

Like other religions, Catholicism suffered gravely under Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who declared Albania the world's first atheist state in 1967. Many Catholics were killed, tortured, imprisoned or sent to labor camps. The ban on religions ended in the early 1990s and St. John Paul II visited in 1993.

During his brief visit, Francis will address Albanian authorities and an interreligious gathering, celebrate Mass in a square named for Albania's most famous Catholic — Mother Teresa — and greet children cared for by charitable groups.

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