Catholics in Albania are delighted with their new church
Project Code: 432-01-19
Happily, the Catholic faith in Albania is experiencing something of a revival. Although Catholics make up only a relatively small minority of the population, the great majority of them are young. Overall, the average age of the Albanian population is just 30 years, so the churches are also full of young people.
Only a few years ago the situation of Catholics looked very different here, given the decades of persecution. When Father Jaroslav Car of the Conventual Franciscans came here to Jaru, in southern Albania, most of the people had never even seen a Catholic priest. The children would run after this bearded man, in his Franciscan habit, calling out "Jesus has come!"
Without realizing it, these children had hit upon a profound truth. For Father Jaroslav and his Franciscan confreres really have brought Jesus to Jaru. They had to start from scratch with their pastoral work, since several generations had by then been brought up without God and many did not even know how to make the Sign of the Cross. But their work has borne fruit, and today the parish has over 100 Catholic faithful.
For many years Holy Mass was celebrated in a very unusual place, a concrete bunker that the faithful had converted into a chapel. There are many such bunkers in Albania. The former communist dictator Enver Hodja, who ruled Albania from 1944 until 1985 under a Stalinist regime of terror and who persecuted every form of religious expression, had some 750,000 built, and for decades they have scarred the landscape of this Southeastern European country.
His plan was to build one such bunker for every four Albanian citizens. But their purpose was not so much to protect the ordinary people but rather to demonstrate the omnipresent might of this paranoid dictator.
Since the political changes, many of these bunkers have been demolished, though some have found new uses. It is perhaps an extraordinary sign of divine Providence that, here of all places, a bunker should have been transformed into a place of worship, for it was here in Jaru that the Hodja dictatorship had a large military base and, in the neighbouring town of Shtylass, an internment camp for political prisoners. To have erected the great cross that the Fathers have now put up close to the entrance to the bunker, so that it can be clearly recognized even from a distance as a church, would have meant certain death during communist times.
While the bunker served its purpose in the short-term, the parish needed to have a proper church, one with sufficient space for the congregation and which would be a fitting place for the celebration of the Mass.
Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, ACN was able to make a contribution of $110,100 for the construction of a new church. Now the Catholic faithful of Jaru are rejoicing, grateful to have a fitting place of worship at last.
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