Freedom of worship in Albania: taking the path together

Freedom of worship in Albania: taking the path together

Freedom of worship in Albania: taking the path together

In November, Albania celebrates the 25th anniversary of the rebirth of religious faith, after the downfall of a very strict communist regime which forced State-atheism and fuelled the profanation of several places of worship, the persecution of religious leaders of all the main faiths, as well as of several families, ordinary men and women whose outcome was to bequeath their own traditions and values secretly.

On November 4th, the catholic community commemorated the first public Mass held at the Rrëmaj cemetery, back in 1990, after the end of communism, when Don Simon Jubani, a priest from Shkodër, born in 1927 and passed away in 2011, decided to pray at and officiate the first public catholic celebration after the fall of communism. The followers attending the celebration were very few, mostly women and children. At the end of the function the followers left unharmed, hand in hand, despite the security force cordon deployed around the cemetery.

Likewise, on Friday 13th the Islamic community commemorated the reopening of the Lead Mosque and the first religious function after the downfall of the regime, on the far side of Shkodër, under Rozafa fortress. Before a praying crowd, the Imams reminded people of the darkest and hardest moments of Albanian history, aiming at enlivening worshippers’ faith. Interestingly, one of the Imams officiating the ceremony spoke up against violence of any kind: “Extremism and terrorism do not belong to any faith […] whereas we stand for peace, dialogue, harmony and collaboration”.


In retrospect, these words sound almost prophetic. What lasts, after the celebration, is the hope for further interreligious dialogue and pacific living together, which have always characterized the Albanian society. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris, Nigeria and several other places in the world, this small corner of Balkans continues to stand as a concrete testimony of religious coexistence, dictated alternately by the call of muezzins and the bells. Here in Albany unique and deep feelings of interreligious brotherhood can be felt everywhere, to such an extent that Pope Francis had soon been moved by this when he visited the Country in September 2014. Episodes of large-scale violence challenge the daily life of all those people working on a day-to-day basis in order to build bridges of dialogue between fighting people. How can we talk about forgiveness while facing such acts? How much room can be left to the spontaneous rage?

Paraphrasing the words of Father Gianfranco Testa, one of the Consolata Missionaries and founder of the University of Forgiveness – neither we must forgive the terrible acts of violence that every day are perpetrated in the world, nor we can forgive the suffering and grief of the victims on someone else behalf. It’s absolutely fair for the victims to express their own grief as well as for the society to understand, internalize and share it. worked out, the rage needs to be turned and channeled into something else, in order to prevent it from leading the actions of single men and whole societies. ndeed, living under the emotional grip of rage means turning our thoughts towards a desire of revenge which will never be satisfied.

Human beings are lucky: they have the power of choosing a life free of hatred, resentment and vengeance. In this mechanism of both perceived and instilled rage there is, in fact, room for exercising our own ability to forgive. However, what does forgiveness mean? It must not be confused with reconciliation. Forgiveness is a gift to oneself, a predisposition of the heart that helps people leave peacefully. Every human being can choose forgiveness in his/her own life. It is a matter of choice. Forgiveness is just about ourselves and, thus, it is always possible. Forgiveness is a gain in terms of serenity and freedom from sufferings. Forgiveness is highly different from pursuing reconciliation with the other.


Let’s ask ourselves a last question: can we be men and women who have the courage and creativity to find new answers when confronted with violence?  We can. Better, we must. We can be promoters of a change that involves understanding and dialogue. We can train ourselves coexisting with people belonging to different faiths, contexts and groups. Building a human and physical place of living together is a real possibility.

In this view Albania leads the way in Europe. Lots of Mosques’ minarets, the bell tower of a Catholic Church, the lighted Franciscan cross and the orthodox belfry, all of them stand out together in the sky of Shkodër. Likewise, in Tiran, the old mosque, the orthodox cathedral and the catholic one are all well placed side by side in a restricted area, between Skenderbeu square and Lana River. It looks like they’re huddling around the national hero on horseback, who towers over the square named after him. He himself seems to remind us that this awareness is the very point where we can start a path in order to create spaces of peace and reconciliation. We need men and women who have the courage to face this challenge.


Giacomo e Sara
Operazione Colomba