The beginnings of the foundation in Albania

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It was 17:20 when Fathers Laureano Sevillano Del Otero, Dominic O’Toole and Andrzej Michon, the first three Albanians Redemptorists, landed in Tirana, capital of Albania. The sky was cloudy and the road showed the preparations for the upcoming visit of the Pope to the “Land of the Eagles”.

The community was received in the rectory of the Cathedral by Mons George Frendo OP, Auxiliary Bishop of Tirana-Durres. There they remained for two weeks dedicated to the study of language and participating in various church meetings, making contact with the Albanian Catholic Church and its characteristics. The next day they were received by the Archbishop of the capital, Mons. Rrok Mirdita, who said that the arrival of the Redemptorists to the diocese was a precious gift for their 75th anniversary. They also held a meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio to Albania, who invited the confreres to love the people and have “smell of sheep”, quoting Pope Francisco.

During the stay in Tirana, the community visited the future site, Kamëz, and also held meetings in order to discuss the details of the foundation, which was advanced to Monday September 22, for various reasons.

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On Sunday 21 September Pope Francis visited Albania, which became the first country in Europe to be visited by the Holy Father. The confreres had the privilege of being very close to Francis, as the bishops and priests of Albania are not very numerous. Also present In the celebration were many people from other religions, along with religious leaders and government officials. It was amazing human tide gathered at Mother Teresa Square. In his homily, the Pope referred to the Church as a missionary community. He repeated several times the greeting of peace: “It is not just a greeting, it’s also a gift: peace. Dear brothers and sisters in Albania, I also come among you today to this place dedicated to a humble and grand daughter of this land Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for me repeat that greeting: Peace at home, peace in your hearts, peace in your nation. Peace!” He spoke of the suffering of the Church in Albania in the past and referred to the image of the eagle on the flag of this country, as an invitation for the Albanians to fly high. In the afternoon, the confreres participated in a meeting of the Pope with priests and religious in the cathedral, where two witnesses described their religious loyalty in times of atheistic Communist dictatorship.

The first community of Redemptorist in Albania: Kamëz

Monday September 22 is written in golden letters in the history book of the Congregation. After receiving the papal blessing, in a car provided by the Archdiocese (that only has two seats, so one of the confreres travels in the back), the community drove the 10 km to Kamëz. At 1700, the three Redemptorists first entered what is now the first Albanian community. Thanks be to God!

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The Redemptorist community has received the mission to serve the Catholic community of Kamëz, including the Parish of St. John Mary Vianney of Kamëz, the Parish of the nearby village of Luz and Kasalle area. In all three places the Eucharist is celebrated, although Kasalle and Light have only a small chapel, whichout electricity or running water. Kamëz is a large urban center, which have settled Catholic families who have migrated from the northern mountains. Luz and Kasalle are rural populations. But in all of them you can see a humble lifestyle and economy of survival. The roads are bad and you can see the wounds of abandonment and poverty. Here is our Albanian  “Scala”.

The Catholic population of about 20,000 people. The community is installed in the Parish of Kamëz, consisting of church and parish house, which needs some improvements. The community is learning Albanian, but English is the language for the morning prayer and dialogue among its members. Every day the Liturgy of the Hours and the Eucharist is celebrated in front of the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help which was give to Fr Andrzej in Poland. At the same time, all services are developed by the community members. The Eucharist is celebrated in Albanian since the first day, which has greatly delighted the faithful.

The beginnings of this missionary venture have not been easy, especially when the faithful have ascked the confreres for celebrations in homes. Given the difficulty of the language, the help and assistance of other priests and religious has been a very enriching experience communion. The Church in Albania is small and very friednly. Given the shortage of priests in the country, most of the clergy and religious are foreign missionaries who feel solidarity with the first steps of our community.

One of the things that most surprised the confreres is the age of the Catholic community. Most of the people participating in the Eucharist are teenagers and young people. There are also some elderly. Middle-aged Catholics do not go to church, we have been told, because their faith was not developed during communism, when all the country’s churches were destroyed or closed. Young people in Kamëz greatly assist the Redemptorist community at the moment to know the reality and speak with the faithful.

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On Sunday October 5, feast of Blessed Xavier Seelos, Archbishop Mirdita celebrated Mass to introduce the Redemptorist Missionairies to Kamëz. In his homily, the archbishop said he was happy that we will take care of this parish, with one of the country’s largest Catholic population. He also said that he wanted the parish community to help their new priests, since it is a privilege to have three priests at their service. He also expressed hopes that our presence here will be long and fruitful, and that it will result in the growth of the parish communityin Kamëz. At the same time, he reminded them that there can be no church without priests, because withour priests there are no sacraments, so he asked them to prayer for vocations.

The Redemptorist Mission in Albania has only just begun. The spiritual and material situation in this part of Europe brings the meaningful presence of our Congregation. The hope of the young Catholics in a church that has suffered a lot but remains faithful to the Gospel brings hope. The prayers and support of all the Redemptorist Family is needded for this small seed of the Gospel to bear abundant fruit.  And hopefully other Redemptorist missionary will wish to join this adventure.

In Christ the Redeemer

Laureano Del Otero CSsR

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