Overall, we have to say that despite those efforts, the Church and spiritual life remain in a burgeoning stage. The renewal of Vatican II has not yet had a full impact on the Albanian Church. There is a largely “clerical Church” with little or no lay participation. The cause is obviously a lack of Christian initiation.
What are the hopes and expectations that the Albanian people associate with the Catholic Church?
In the beginning, Albanian people just looked at the Church as a big charity. Maybe there is a risk that ecclesial identity is being misunderstood. But now it seems to me that generally the majority of the population is more open to the core of the Church’s message and has a largely positive opinion of ecclesial institutions. The Church is seen like a guarantor and guardian of human dignity and, henceforth, of human rights.
And what are the hopes and expectations for the visit of Pope Francis?
I would distinguish Catholic and civic expectations:
- Catholics hope that he might strengthen all pastoral workers, giving them courage and willingness to work in unity and in communion with the universal Church.
- Civil authorities are hoping for a greater visibility for their country, which would make it easier for Albania’s future integration into the European Community.
Can you describe the role of other religions in Albania, especially Islam?
Traditionally, the majority of Albanians (around 65-70%) have been Muslims, and they are not at all radicals or fundamentalists. A minority of Catholics live in the north and a similar Orthodox minority is present mainly in the south. In recent years Evangelical Protestants have seen impressive growth.
Generally, religions live quite well together. Even though I do not know to which degree this friendly coexistence is based on true friendship or only on common sense. Certainly, the spiritual character of Albania is not a fanatic one: the mainstream opinion is that there is a God in heaven. It is not by chance that the new democratic Constitution approved in 1998 mentions God in its preamble.
The coexistence of different religions (Sunni & Bektashian Islam, Catholic, Orthodox & Evangelical Christianity) is a buffer against secular atheism and a bastion to uphold the spiritual dimension of the human person.
Is there an existing and steady dialogue between the different Christian denominations and religions in your country?
Yes. I am personally very involved in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. As a professor at the seminary of Shkoder I can testify to the warm friendship that exists between Catholics and Orthodox in Albania. We have regular meetings with professors and students of the Orthodox academy of Durres. We have also started meetings with Evangelicals and Muslims.
Are the religions and their representatives contributing to the development of Albania?
They are. Catholic activity has been strong in the education and health realms: schools, hospitals. The Orthodox have founded important academic institutions and have built a wonderful cathedral in Tirana. (We must not forget that political atheism has led to the “aesthetic desolation” of Albania. I am speaking about the foolish project that covered the sweet hills of this country with around 500,000 bunkers). There are also some Islamic schools that help promote human rights and civil integration.
In your view, what are the key challenges for the country?
Family, education, honesty. Albanians have to protect one of their greatest gifts: the great esteem they have for the family. But the family is precisely under a terrible attack right now. Traditional values, often founded on machismo and patriarchy, are understandably called into question by the new generation; but in the meanwhile young people suffer excruciatingly from the contemporary temptations of hedonism, materialism and individualism.