Albanian Youth Urged to Stay and Build Up Nation

Pope Warns of Illusion of «Easy Success» in Emigrating

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2001 ( John Paul II urged the young people of Albania to contribute to building up their country rather than emigrate and look for «easy success abroad.»

He made his plea while meeting with Albania´s Catholic bishops in their first «ad limina» visit to Rome.

Years after the fall of Communism and the subsequent onslaught of chaos in Albania, many youths feel compelled to flee across the Adriatic Sea to Italy in search of a better future in the West. But the Pope invited the country´s youth to «contribute to a better future in their own country, overcoming the temptation to emigrate and the illusion of easy success abroad.»

«Do not tire of raising your voice firmly in defense of life from conception,» he added, in his address to the Albanian bishops, «and do not give up on your commitment to safeguard, with courageous determination, the dignity of every human person.»

The bishops´ visit testifies to the renewal of the Church in this country, after being dominated by Enver Hoxha and his Maoist regime. During the Cold War, Albania drastically cut individual and collective liberties. The eradication of religious practices was especially violent, entailing the destruction of many places of worship, both Christian and Muslim.

In face of the economic crisis and fall of the Communist regimes in Europe, it seemed difficult that the ultraorthodox Albanian regime would be able to continue. In fact, after religious practice was authorized again in 1991, President Ramiz Alia convoked the first pluralist elections.

The Catholic Church was reconstituted during those years. At present, it has three bishops and four apostolic administrators, led by Archbishop Angelo Massafra of Shkoder.

Last Saturday, John Paul II celebrated Mass with all of them and, at the end of their cordial meeting, he addressed them quoting Tertullian´s famous phrase: «The blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians.»

In this country of 3.4 million inhabitants, Catholics constitute 10% of the population. The rest are Muslims (70%) and Orthodox (20%). The Church has recovered her active role, thanks in part «to the pastoral, cultural and material contribution» of numerous European and Asian missionaries, John Paul II said.

The Pope added that the missionaries´ initiatives have made it possible to create «providential vanguards of evangelization and human promotion» in the country. In fact, the Catholic Church and its humanitarian organizations were largely responsible for the acceptance of Kosovo refugees, who arrived in Albania after fleeing from Slobodan Milosevic´s ethnic cleansing.

In regard to the Church´s future in Albania, the Holy Father proposed the following priorities to the bishops: formation of the clergy, pastoral attention to vocations, and family and youth pastoral care. This challenge, he said, implies the struggle against abortion, drugs, prostitution, the spirit of vengeance, abuse of women and violence.

After the fall of Communism, the country collapsed in a grave institutional and economic crisis, opening the way to mafias that trafficked in drugs and controlled prostitution networks aimed at Western Europe through Italy.

When greeting the Holy Father on behalf of the Albanian Catholic bishops and faithful, Archbishop Massafra asked the Holy Father´s help in renewing Albania´s ecclesial fabric.

«We have enormous need of spiritual and material help to reconstruct both the heart and mind of our people, as well as the pastoral structures destroyed by the Communist regime,» Archbishop Massafra said.

He gave the Pontiff a silver cross handcrafted in Albania, symbolizing the country´s «way of the cross» for more than a half-century.

Archbishop Massafra also gave the Holy Father the plans for the «House of Peace,» a new convent that will enable the Poor Clares to return to Albania after a 500-year absence.

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