Albanian Franciscan Spends Lifetime Combating a Law of Vengeance

Father Maka Struggles Against a 15th-Century Eye-for-Eye Rule

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SCUTARI, Albania, JULY 21, 2002 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- The Kanun Law dictating blood vengeance is still in force in the mountains of northern Albania. Father Dionis Maka would like that to stop.



The 92-year-old Franciscan has spent his life trying to negotiate with local inhabitants to make sure the 15th-century law isn't put to use.

In the villages in the area between Scutari, Dukagjini and Lezhe, the "Code of the Mountains" dictates that "blood is never left unavenged" (Article 128), and "the murderer falls in the vengeance of blood" (Article 125).

Since 1939, when he succeeded in saving the first life, Father Maka has dedicated himself to finding ways to avoid vengeance being carried out. Since then, this priest has helped bring about 117 reconciliations, taking advantage of some guarantees that the Kanun code itself provides.

Article 4 of the code states that "the person of the parish priest is inviolable" and that "the priest is not subject to the law of blood," and these stipulations have given the Franciscan the excuse he needed.

The procedure the priest uses to evade the Kanun is based at times on the compensation of property, even going so far as to give away heads of cattle to reconcile families. At other times, he uses words inspired by the Gospel.

"One must always move with great discretion," he said. "Before approaching the families, in an attempt to reconcile them after a murder that one of the two has suffered, I try to find out who the family is, who the murderer is, and who the friends are. I approach them one by one and ask them if they are willing to help me. I knock on their doors. Thank God, they have never rejected me."

According to the norms of the law itself, reconciliation is possible if the men who have killed go to ask for forgiveness and if those offended accept the offer: 12 oxen for a murdered person. In practice, however, this happens very rarely because the mountain people are too proud to ask for forgiveness or to reach an agreement.

"The Kanun is profoundly anti-evangelical and anti-juridical," Father Maka said. "It is no accident if in Albania, when the state is strong, capable of having its own laws respected, recourse to the Kanun has declined."