Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Albania and the resurgence of Christianity
For almost 30 years Hoxha’s iron grip kept Albania isolated and atheist. Yet the ideology he professed did not go deep. His paranoia about invasion peppered the countryside with ugly concrete pill-box bunkers. Since he died and the Communist regime was overthrown, there has been a remarkable flourishing of religion. There are new churches and new mosques. Tirana’s international airport is named after the most famous Albanian of all, Mother Teresa. Old churches locked up and used as warehouses are back in use, and the wonderful frescoes that many of them contain can once more be seen. I asked a priest in a small town in the south of the country how many baptisms there had been. The answer was 4,000. Metropolitan Anastasios, the Orthodox leader, is an inspiration not only in prayer and the spiritual life but in building churches, initiating social work, teaching children, caring for the elderly and in interfaith relations.
On pilgrimage last month we met two new and young bishops. I asked Bishop John of Korçe to tell his story. “I was brought up on nothing,” he said. “I could not find any meaning in life. Then, when I was 17, a friend gave me a book. It was a Gospel, though I did not know it, but when I read it I found both joy and meaning, and without joy and meaning there is no life.”
That is a story of resurrection, of the discovery of that life that Jesus said he came to share: “I came that they might have life, and have it in all its fullness.” Blank nothingness and arid atheism was surprised by joy and by grace. As a Christian leader in his city, Bishop John makes sure that he is seen walking each month with the mufti, the Muslim leader, for where the memories may have been of religious antagonism and conflict those memories need to be healed.
There is much to learn from this country where religion was abolished, about martyrdom and faithful witness, and the preservation of faith in secret in the darkest times. There is much to learn about the deep rhythm of Christian life that is always, like the life of the Lord from which it springs, “Crucifixion-Resurrection”. It echoes what Edwyn Hoskyns wrote many years ago in his Cambridge Sermons. “The Church has always a dagger at its heart, for it cannot long escape from its own theme — Christ Crucified.” God, Hoskyns said, “is not the God of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also, of the anti-clericals and communists, of all the ‘movements’ which tingle with resentment against the Church. Crucifixion- Resurrection is therefore the song that is sung, whether it is recognised or not, by the whole world of men and things in their tribulation and in their merriment.” The resurrection of the church in Albania may teach us just that.
From an article by the Right Rev Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe