Pope John Paul II Wednesday sent the first Vatican delegation to Albania since the communist takeover of the country more than four decades ago.

The four-day visit is a step toward normalizing ties with Albania, which lifted a ban on religion in November.The Vatican representatives were to meet with government officials and with priests who survived years of severe repression under Europe's last hard-line communist regime.

The Vatican said the delegation, headed by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, would meet with Monsignor Nicola Troshani, 75, apostolic administrator of Durres and Lezhe and the only bishop in Albania. Troshani, one of two dozen surviving Catholic clerics in Albania, was jailed for some years.

Monsignor Piero Pennacchini said the delegates would discuss the "situation of Catholics in the country" and what "could be the future relations between the church and the state."