It is a very long journey travelling from Ireland to Albania, not so much for the number of hours it took us to get there, but for the distances we had to overcome so that we could set foot firmly on that ground. So, when by the end of a Sunday afternoon we reached Kamëz (a city just north of the capital Tirana), we were still very far from that land, from the reality lived by that people.
That evening they were waiting for us. The first familiar face we saw was Lalo, a Spanish Redemptorist who is now in the final stretch of his pastoral year in Albania. But it wasn’t long before we met other faces. First was Gloria, one of the young volunteers sent by the Asociación para la Solidariedad (a Spanish NGO linked to our Congregation) to collaborate for two weeks in a work camp organised by the parishes where the Redemptorists are present. Shortly afterwards, we also met Father Laureano. He is a Spanish Redemptorist missionary and superior of the community he forms with Father Andrzej: a Polish Redemptorist missionary.
We were in Albania for a week and during our stay we had the chance of meeting so many different people. A week was also the available time we had to get to know that ground better: the history of that country where Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, Bektashis and atheists live together. A history with lots of differences when seen from the outside. A history with lots of stories inside. A history with many points in common, such as the fact that they can only live and freely express their faith less than 30 years now. Before that, they lived under a communist regime that forbade religious freedom and that carried out a violent persecution against all those who lived their faith, whatever it was. Many churches and mosques were destroyed during this time and converted into spaces for recreation or political propaganda. Many were the seized books. Statues, crosses, religious objects were damaged and thrown into the dumps. (But still some were kept hidden in pockets, fake walls or improvised trapdoors). Many were killed simply because they believed in God and did not deny Him. Many martyrs were tortured and killed because they refused to apostatize. Many priests and other religious leaders were silenced. Some of them forever. Albania is a country of martyrs and survivors.
Today there is a newly-won liberty, but maybe it hasn’t got into everyone’s heart yet. There are many wounds to heal and roads to open in order to live and express one’s faith openly. Albania is a testimony to many countries, especially from Europe, where it is often taken for granted what can easily be lost.
On top of all this, it is a country that is now beginning to rise again. Walking through the streets of Tirana poverty is barely noticed, but in Kamëz it is quite clear, and the difficulties that still exist in the lives of these people are evident. They are as human as we are, as dignified as we are. The country is trying to get back on his feet, under a democratic regime with vices of the previous one, but it is making progresses, though. During this week we witnessed, for example, that a dirt road was paved just outside the parish church in Bathore, one of the parishes for which the Redemptorists are responsible. This happened only one day after many houses in the vicinity had run out of light and water supply in consequence of a night of thunderstorm and heavy rain. These are small steps, with some setbacks, but they make one dream again.
And we, Redemptorists, are there. With the difficulties of a small community with only 5 years of presence, but we are there. This is the great Good News of the week. We, who proclaim the abundant Redemption, are present where there is hunger for mercy. We, the Redeemer witnesses, who are sent to the wounded world, make ourselves present where wounds and scars need to be healed.
We’ll see you around,
Zé ku Teresa