Albania: The Quran and the Madonna with the Child

Missionary October in Southern Albania
Communion of charisms and trust in the Spirit: this could summarise the missionary experience that we Redemptorists are developing in southern Albania.
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A journey to the South (Pope Francis calls it “peripheries”)
I remember that in my formative years, I read with interest a beautiful book by Fr Manuel Gómez Ríos entitled “Alfonso de Ligorio: un camino hacia el sur” (Madrid 1986). This book highlighted how our Founder, a man of the South, chose to be on the margins of society, on the frontiers of humanity: the South of the South. We Redemptorists care for the southernmost part of Albania, already on the border with Greece, the farthest part of the country from the centre in every way: in the distance, in resources, in services to the population and religious care. The further one moves away from Tirana, the less access one has to hospitals, schools, universities, etc. The Catholic Church also has small communities, far away from the capital, but also with long distances between them, which currently have only one Redemptorist priest.
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This area comprises three communities in small towns, namely Gjirokastër, Delvina and Saranda (where three communities of nuns have been living for more than 25 years) and several villages where there are Catholics or catechumens. All the missionaries in the area are, therefore, foreigners. It should be remembered that in this part of Albania, the Catholic community is marginal, living between a Muslim majority and a (significant) Greek Orthodox minority. In Missionary October, for the last three years, the Redemptorists have been promoting the celebration of a Missionary Week, which is nothing more than inviting native Albanian missionaries to share in the spiritual animation of these communities (in Scala News in March 2022, we recounted the first experience in these places). In this way, the baptised and the catechumens get to know the missionary witness of their compatriots, nourishing in them the desire to bring the Gospel to those around them.
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The Quran and the Madonna with the Child
Let us introduce the team that carried out this Missionary Week. On the one hand, we invited an Albanian missionary couple who are involved in the Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania, a seminarian who is about to be ordained deacon and who did his pastoral experience in the Parish of St. Alphonsus in the city of Kamëz, a Daughter of Charity who is a nurse, a young woman in charge of a youth foundation in the diocese and trainer of animators, and as a gift two Germans, visiting one of the religious communities. On the other hand, the missionaries in the area are the Daughters of Christ the King in Gjirokastër, the Marcelline Sisters in Saranda and the Franciscan Sisters of St. George in Delvine, together with a Redemptorist missionary. This is the Synodality that Pope Francis calls for: to walk together, to face new challenges by sharing different visions and to bring the joy of the Gospel to all.
The plan was simple: to go out to meet the people. The means were simple: each one with a smile, a word from Jesus, some holy water and a souvenir image. On Sunday, October 22nd, World Mission Day, this time of grace began with the welcoming of the missionaries. On the 23rd and 24th, the missionaries went to Shëndëlli, a small village with about 70 Catholic families, which does not mean they are evangelised. To get to Shëndëlli, the cars have to be loaded onto a boat to cross the Butrinto lagoon, where its ruins bring us the whispers of several of its visitors, such as the mythical Aeneas or the great Julius Caesar. The group, inspired by these great heroes, also felt called to a historic destiny, to a remarkable feat. In the mornings, all the homes were visited, and families were blessed: not only Catholic families but also Muslim families who joyfully welcomed the missionaries’ visit. In one of the photos, you can see on the house’s fireplace how the Quran and the image of the Virgin with the Child are kept together: Muslim husband, Catholic wife, home with faith in the one God. In the afternoon, meetings with men, women, children and young people, as well as the Rosary prayer for Peace in the world. October 25th was a day of contact with the presence of the Orthodox Church, the majority in this part of Albania, making a pilgrimage to various monasteries and celebrating the Eucharist with the sisters who could not be inserted in the mission because of their daily activities.
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On 26 and 27 October, the missionary team went to Borsh, a town on the Albanian Riviera, where the Catholics are engaged in tourist activities in summer and in olive growing when the cold weather sets in. Again, all the houses were visited, and homes were blessed, but in a rugged terrain and difficult to access because of muddy and broken roads due to the recent rains. In the afternoon, meeting with the baptised and celebration of the Eucharist, which, in the absence of a church, was celebrated in private homes, in the image of the primitive Church.
At the weekend, the missionary team was present in the more stable communities, which meet for prayer, formation and Eucharist in the house of the missionary nuns. On Saturday morning, the 28th, prayer was shared with the catechumens of Memaliaj and in the afternoon, Sunday celebration and meeting with the community in Gjirokastër. The Seminarian spoke of what a precious gift it is for Albania that so many people have left their homeland to share the Gospel. However, it would be even more special if every baptised person in Albania would be a courageous witness of Jesus’ commandment of love. On Sunday morning, October 29th, the celebration is at 9:30 in Saranda, and there are always many tourists. In the other community, in Delvina, at noon, baptised and sympathisers of the community gathered to talk about the meaning of life. Then lunch was shared and the testimony of the missionaries, and finally, the week was crowned with the final celebration of the Eucharist, presided over by the Redemptorist priest of the pastoral zone.
Fr. Laureano Del Otero Sevillano CSSR
Redemptorist Mission in Albania

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