Catholic bishop of one of Europe's poorest dioceses appeals for clergy to save local Church
Over 60 per cent of local inhabitants have already left for Tirana (pictured) and other towns leaving only the poorest, most isolated families behind
The Catholic bishop of one of Europe's poorest dioceses has appealed for clergy to help him save local Church life in the face of mass emigration and poverty.
"If you wish to evangelise the poor, come to us - you'll proclaim the Gospel to them, and the poor will evangelise you in turn", said Bishop Gjergj Meta of Rreshen in Albania. "Plenty of people are still attending church here, but not in proportion to those who define themselves as Catholics, since there are also many agnostics, atheists and religiously indifferent among them".
In an open letter, Bishop Meta said he was grateful to missionary clergy who had helped his mountainous northeastern diocese since communist rule collapsed in 1991. However, 60 per cent of local inhabitants had already left for Tirana, Durres and other towns, he added, leaving only the poorest, most isolated families behind, while only five Catholic priests and seven nuns remained to help him minister via 40 places of worship.
"This is why I'm inviting you on a mission - to experience something miraculous", the bishop told Catholic clergy. "I urge all those who seek this - priests and missionaries alike, and especially diocesan clergy, to come to Rreshen and help evangelise the poor and those living a distant places".
Catholics make up a tenth of Albania's population of 2.9 million, according to a 2011 census, making them the second largest religious group after Muslims in the Balkan country, where all religious prayers and rituals were outlawed during 47 years of communism. The Pope paid a one-day visit to Tirana in September 2014, in line with plans to support peripheral Catholic communities, and raised an 88-year-old persecution survivor, Fr Ernest Simoni, to cardinal in October 2016.
In a Christmas message, the Bishops Conference said extreme poverty was common in Albania's most isolated regions, as well as in city suburbs, adding that survey data suggested half of citizens wished to "find a better, worthier life" by emigrating.
"This is the fruit of hopelessness - corruption, self-enrichment through drug dealing, unemployment and a growing gulf between poor and rich, weak and strong. Those who think they wield power and force are tolerating daily injustices", the bishops said. "But there are signs of light. Our dioceses and parishes are helping families in hard situations, as well as the poor, the handicapped and women victimised by violence, by opening new schools and social aid centres".
The 88-year-old Greek-born head of Albania's minority Orthodox church, Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, a World Council of Churches central committee member, was granted Albanian citizenship at the end of December after 25 years in the post by President Ilir Meta, who praised his contribution to national education, healthcare, welfare and culture, as well as to Orthodox religious life.
PICTURE: Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with children in the church at the Bethany Centre in Tirana, Albania, during his visit to the country in September 2014 ©CNS