31 May 2017
Albania

I prayed before that wall because there was Jesus there

Ad Limina Visit of the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Albania

“I prayed before that wall because Jesus was there.”—These are the words of an elderly Albanian man, quoted by Don Simon Kulli, Diocesan Administrator of Sapë, during the Ad Limina Visit of the Albanian Bishops as the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. After the end of the communist regime, this man revealed to his loved ones, who had come to consider him mad, that he had placed a cross in that wall in order to avoid being forced to give it to the party’s security apparatus and to keep the Lord’s presence in his home.

This story manifests the difficulties of Christian life under communism in Albania, the only East Bloc country where even the private practice of faith was banned. Enver Hoxha had tried to close heaven above Albania and to build a more than atheistic, “antitheist” regime, as the Archbishop of Tirana, Msgr. Frendo, defines it.

In 25 years of freedom, the Catholic Church has been reborn and the Bishops’ words express the great vitality especially of the families and Catholic laypeople. Msgr. Ottavio Vitale, Bishop of Lezha—whose interview we are publishing here—, explained that “in the past decade, families have remarkably matured. They are no longer tied to traditions, but attentive to the Church’s directives. This is shown in particular by the seriousness with which couples are preparing for marriage and in the collaboration with our initiatives. The contribution of laypeople is less clerical than in the past.”

Of course there are shadowy areas, often linked to economic difficulties that, for example, oblige young spouses to live in different cities or countries for work reasons, or the persistence in some rural areas of arranged marriages; but, in general, the “spiritual growth of couples” can be seen. “Our churches are full of young people,” he added, “sometimes we have to limit the number because of logistical problems. 400 came to take part in the WYD in Krakow; but there could have been many more, if we had had more economic resources.”

During the Ad Limina Visit, the participation of Albanian delegations at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin and at the World Youth Day in Panama was discussed.

Card. Farrell concluded the meeting by thanking the Albanian Bishops “for the example you give us: after what you have suffered it is not easy to continue being Christian!”