Russian Orthodox leader on 1st Albania visit by church head

TIRANA, Albania — The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church is making the first visit to Albania by a head of the Russian church.

Patriarch Kirill arrived Saturday at Tirana-Mother Teresa International Airport, where he was welcomed by the primate of Albania's Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Archbishop Anastasios.

The archbishop says "this first historical peace visit" is "of remarkable importance."

Kirill also plans to meet with Albania's president and prime minister during his three-day trip.

Albania was a close ally of the Soviet Union after World War II. The country's communist regime banned religion in 1967, turning churches, mosques and other places of worship into shopping centers, sports halls and theaters. The regime fell in 1990.

The population of 3 million people is mostly Muslim, but there also are Orthodox and Catholic communities.

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