Albania's New Cathedral Is Sign of Catholic Rebirth

A Point of Spiritual Reference in Post-Communist Land

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RRËSHEN, Albania, NOV. 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The rebirth of the Catholic Church in Albania, after decades of Communist oppression, has found one of its most eloquent symbols in the consecration of the new Cathedral of Rrëshen.



During the homily for the cathedral's consecration last Saturday, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said: "After the dark years of persecution, at last the Catholic community in Rrëshen has a place in which to celebrate the sacred mysteries that express the most important moments of Christian life."

Among those attending the consecration of the cathedral, dedicated to "Jesus, only Savior of the world," were all the bishops and apostolic administrators of Albania, the bishops of Kosovo and Montenegro, and some representatives of prelates and of the diocesan Caritas of Italy that contributed to the construction of the cathedral, the Fides agency reported.

"The new cathedral is a sign of the reactivation of the faith that cancels the day of shame," explained Monsignor Cristoforo Palmieri, the apostolic administrator of Rrëshen.

From 1944 to 1990, Albania lived under a Maoist Communist regime. In 1967 the country was described in the Constitution as a secular state.

Foreign religious personnel was expelled or imprisoned, while local bishops and clergy, who had been arrested, were sentenced to forced labor and banned from any religious activity whatsoever. Many of them were killed, and churches were destroyed or commandeered.

On Oct. 22, 1991, after the fall of Communism, the first nuncio, Archbishop Ivan Dias, was appointed. At the time, there were only 33 priests and 45 nuns, all elderly and sick.

In response to appeals by John Paul II, material help and religious personnel began to arrive. Today there are 20 communities of men religious and 70 communities of nuns. There are 110 priests, about 300 nuns, and 150 places of worship.

On April 25, 1993, John Paul II visited Shkodër and Tirana and on that occasion he ordained four bishops, the first Albanian prelates since the Communist era.

In this Maryland-size country of 3.5 million, Catholics represent 10% of the population, Muslims 70%, and Albanian Orthodox 20%.