Diary – Albania – Part 2

FR ZEFF

Fr. Zeff came to the house – he is a small, humble man with deep-set eyes and a contained and deep presence. He had a tall fine young man as his secretary. Another sister told me that there were no cars in Tirana five years ago, and now there are lots. They come in from Greece and Italy and Bosnia. The Mercs are often stolen in Europe and driven in. The people of Tirana are well dressed but in Puke and the mountains they are very neglected and poor in rags with no blankets. There is money coming into Albania from the foreign workers. But there is not much work here – in the streets in the morning there is a holiday air – lots of people talking, some selling, others sitting.. There are schools in Tirana and a University, but the standards are very low.

Saturday.July 6th After lunch I went to book into Swissair but there was no one in. It was a very hot afternoon and with no hat, I had to kept o the shade. Many were sitting in cafes – some wandering some working – a plasterer improving the walls of his garage and a flower stall full of the most exotic and beautiful plants. ( I saw rows and rows of greenhouses in a number of fields, all without glass and with nothing growing – it occurred that modern poly material would have suited, but was told that the problem of ownership and capital was the difficulty, after a collective farm, no one knew how to break it up legally and no one had the money to develop it. I passed the Papal Nunciature . It is an extraordinary building, florid, compact, colourful – fish and flower plaster ornaments on the walls. It was Italianate of perhaps a 1930s style, and looked very gay in the drab streets. Shut down in 1945, it became the Cuban embassy and then was sold back to the Papacy. It had a Papal flag – the only flag I saw in Albania. The Nuncio is an Indian and also doubles as the Bishop of the South of Albania – one of his priests, a Canadian dropped into the MS house and we had a chat. I noticed how people generally look old with very wrinkled faces – I felt like reaching for my camera frequently, but then stopped, because I felt that it was very intrusive and for the wrong reasons. I saw no negroes, and hair was usually black, they are unsmiling until one smiles at them and then they relax. There was a banner across the road advertising a Basketball competition and display by an American college. The streets are clean and easy to cross, water is constantly being used to clean cars and pavement. There are no smells and there are lots of children. Everywhere there are low towerblocks of flats with clothes hanging out on balconies. but all betray a state of dilapidation. I noticed the Muezzin coming from the mosque towers, but I never saw anyone pray in public in the Moslem fashion. Occasionally I saw a woman with a Moslem hair scarf – usually white.

ARCHBISHOP MIRDITA

Saturday. Went with two sisters to the Archbishops house. Arbp Mirdita is Albanian but born and brought up in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, where he was in seminary, and then was chaplain to the New York Yugoslavian community. He was ordained by the Pope with 3 other bishops in 1992 when the Pope spend a day in Albania. His house is a simple bungalow in an area in which E. Germans had built a series of house for their people who were working in Albania. He is looked after by sisters and the rooms are conventional western style with sofas, his office is neat and there is a slightly formal unlived in air about the place. I heard that he is criticised by being too institutional and dealing with the administration and not getting out among the people – however this is understandable because only he can solves some of the pressing problems of the Church. There are no laypeople who can help him with that at the moment. There is one seminary open in Albania with 120 students and the first ordinations in 2000.

Albanians of whom about 20% are Catholics mostly in the North. He received $300,000 from the congregation for the Missions (originally Propaganda Fidei). There is no money inside Albania so all must come from the outside. Everything to do with the Church, but everything, started from scratch in1991. Priests obviously cannot support themselves, and the people cannot support them. There are some 20 priests in the country (? diocese) all from abroad, all regulars.

The Archbishop spoke about his 50kms x 50 kms diocese. The first Catholic group to come into the country was the Caritas projects – from different countries (similar to CAFOD) and since this was before the bishop and the archdiocese was set up, it gave the impression that the Church was rich. Nothing existed buildings, priests, religious schools houses for the church, but the Caritas aims were aid not church buildings – the Little way Association was a great help in filling this need. Some of the sites ere being given back (eg. the old seminary area which had been flattened an army training centre built on the site). Cafod made the same mistake but Vincent Nichols was quoted as being one who helped the Arbp. and managed to get the system right. The great need for the villages is for places to meet to rebuild the local social links – these buildings would be also used for churches, schools, pharmacies. The need to develop local social links comes from the Communist desire to destroy these, and to imprison and execute those involved in any religious activity. The Archbishop gets to meetings of bishops in Europe, where he (and the Vatican) have a high regard for Cardinal Basil. I asked if he had a lay team. He said that this was quite impossible at the moment because everyone has a personal agenda, to improve himself and his family, thus he has to do the solving of administrative problems.

There is such a climate of feathering ones own nest because it is so bare. There is hardly a layman with the spiritual depth and maturity to work of the church disinterestedly. To open this door at the moment would be putting people into impossible temptation.. The picture of the bishop in the FIC house and the MC house was so good and impressive that when I saw the man himself I didn’t recognised the same person – perhaps this is the change in 4 years.

That evening I went out to a Restaurant with Fr. Luke. It had a plain decor, pleasant tables and ornate chairs, it was on two levels with very restricted ground floor plan. We were the only diners – 7.30 – 10.00. Luke felt very cut off from his friends in India etc at first.

HARRY

Sunday.July 7th After the Mass Harry took me in his van round Tirana with Francesco who had been baptised, was very alert, would look after the van when we were out and spoke very good English – Harry had been made redundant fro his oil processing firm, had an OSB sister in Holland and now worked for Mother Teresa, taking a 35mm copy of Something Beautiful for God around with a screen to show to people and evangelise with. He explained hte different works which the MC do in Albania, look after old people, orphans, have a day centre for babies, pharmacies, handicapped children., there are some contemplative MC brothers in the country. We discovered that we were not allowed to go down a street because we were a commercial vehicle (like the London parks) and as a pleasant policeman was chatting us up hoping we would put a note in his pocket. Harry, knowing his intention and determined not to, pretended only to understand half of what he was saying, so we passed on. We went to Skanderbeg’s castle at Kruja The road from Tirana had recently been tarmacked and had new buildings and lorry parks plus the large FIC hospital which was the largest new building I saw in Tirana.

Monday. I went through the themes which I had talked about with the sisters and then had Mass. As we had been having the liturgy of the word in the small conference room and then processing into the chapel. This was so that I could encourage the sisters to share the homily and thus give them a voice and allow the Holy Spirit to be active in them by sharing, ie. turning tombstones into Loudspeakers. This time I asked the two sisters from the kitchen to sit on my right and my left. It cause a great giggle and some fluttering by the two Junior sisters but delighted embarrassment too.. Each sister gave a short bidding prayer for her home community and each of them had prepared prayers for the first Mass prayer and after communion time during the week. We had the Renewal of vows afterwards and then a team photo. Harry whisked me off to the FIC resplendent with a garland of tinsel where I was half an hour late for Br. ‘s celebratory lunch – he was very kind about it, but his pasta sauce was excellent even though it was some minutes after its best.

We talked about the FIC hospital and I hoped that some of my friends might be able to go to lecture there in their medical school. Sr Ancilla and Sr. Carla picked me up and took me to the airport I was rushed to the front of the queue and straight into the waiting room.. A huge round lady looked after me as I got my ticket changed (from Munich to Frankfurt owing to the Munich flight into Tirana being very delayed). I had to wait at Frankfurt for two hours before being finally met by Richard Wright in Manchester.

REFLECTIONS

1. this country has experienced an evil hand like none other. They are an old people Ilyrians who have suffered occupation and oppression. Their suffering under the Turks pushed the Catholics into the mountains and the communists kept them there – their suffering and poverty is appalling – that is why the MCs are there with them.

2. All the social networks are broken so that the Communists system should enter into the lives and hearts of the people. All religion has been mercilessly stamped out.

3. They have a claim on the Catholics Orthodox and Muslim communities to assist them back into civilised life.

4. They have barely any culture of their own, and the past has been systematically destroyed, anyway it barely belonged to them original Albanians.

5. They may have been spared the horrors of Bosnia because of the cruelty of the Communist regime. All are Albanians though some are Moslems. The Orthodox look to Greece rather than to Serbia (I think)

6. There is a great need for primary help in the mountain villages and towns.