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Albania's newly appointed cardinal addresses parliament

Associated Press logo Associated Press 22/12/2016 By LLAZAR SEMINI, Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania — Albania's newly appointed Roman Catholic cardinal has addressed parliament in an unusual meeting of church and state.

Cardinal Ernest Simoni delivered his speech Thursday one month after Pope Francis made the 88-year-old priest Albania's second cardinal in history.

Simoni told lawmakers they should not "focus on the fight for power but on the Albanian people's problems."

The cardinal proudly reminded them that Albania is known worldwide for its inter-religious harmony, with a Muslim majority and Orthodox and Catholic communities among its 3 million people.

"We are a nation where different religious faiths live in a brotherly way," he said. "I am not speaking of tolerance but of brotherhood, which is much more. So let's cultivate the inter-religious brotherhood."

He received thunderous applause as he left the chamber.

Simoni spent 18 years in prison because of his faith during the communist regime that banned religion from 1967 until its collapse in 1990. The regime turned churches, mosques and other places of worship into shopping centers, sports halls and theaters.

He was arrested after Christmas Mass in 1963 and charged with leading prayers for John F. Kennedy, the American president who had been assassinated one month earlier in Dallas. He was tortured, twice sentenced for murder and sent to forced labor for refusing to speak out against his church. During his 2014 visit to Albania, Francis came to tears when Simoni described his persecution.

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