Easter among young people in Albania

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For our parish and our community in Albania, preparation for Easter began much earlier.

On March 14, together with a group of about 50 boys, we spent a day of recollection, making a pilgrimage to Scutari, in the north of the country, the Catholic heart of Albania. Here we visited the prisons where some Catholics (overall there are seven bishops, more than a hundred priests, dozens of religious, and hundreds of lay people) were brutally tortured and killed during the communist regime of Enver Hoxha. In the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence, we prayed in front of the mortal remains of some of the 38 martyrs, beatified in 2016 by Pope Francis. Back home we visited the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Nenshat, with whom the young people talked for the entire afternoon.

On March 22, together with about 60 catechism children, we spent a day of formation and excursion in the Divjakë Natural Park. On March 29 instead together with the whole Parish, we participated in the diocesan Way of the Cross in the Sanctuary of Saint Anthony of Padua (Kisha and Shen Ndout)  in Laç, the main sanctuary of Albania which sees the influx of numerous pilgrims from all over the country, many of whom are even non-Christians.

Holy Week then began with Palm Sunday: a large crowd took part in the blessing of the branches in the church square, which was followed by Holy Mass. Many took the advantage of a priest available in the confessional to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

On Tuesday afternoon, our parish priest, Fr. Andrzej Michon was invited to the sanctuary of Laç to celebrate the Holy Mass and preach to numerous pilgrims who, like every Tuesday, came to the Shrine to express their devotion to the Saint of Padua.

On the morning of Holy Thursday, six boys participated in the Holy Chrism Mass, presided over by Archbishop Mons. Arjan Dodaj in the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Tirana. They carried out the liturgical service at the Eucharistic celebration which was attended by all the priests of the diocese, including the Apostolic Nuncio Msgr. Louis Bonazzi.

In the afternoon there was a celebration of the feast of the Lord’s Supper (Coena Domini) in the parish church. On the day on which the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood is commemorated, the traditional washing of the feet of twelve men of the community took place. At the end of the celebration, a small procession took place up to the altar of reposition where the Blessed Sacrament was placed, and for a while the people spent time in adoration. The altar was carefully prepared by some young people, assisted by two Franciscan nuns from Saint Filippa Mareri, who collaborate with us in the parish, and by myself.’

On Good Friday, in the afternoon, there was a liturgical Service of the Passion of the Lord, with the Adoration of the Cross. Subsequently many people, even on the following day, stopped silently in prayer before the sepulcher of the Lord Jesus. 

In the evening, at 21, the Way of the Cross took place with all the parishes of Tirana, in Mother Teresa Square, the place where Pope Francis celebrated the Eucharist during his visit in 2014. Our boys accompanied the Crucifix and the Archbishop who opened the procession of faithful who commemorated the passion and death of the Redeemer.

On the morning of Holy Saturday, many people came to the church to bless the eggs, sweets, and food. This tradition, very ancient and still present in almost all of Eastern Europe, is very dear to the Albanian people. Many, especially young people, dedicated time to carefully coloring, painting, and preparing the eggs, some of which were decorated with crosses, Easter images, and some biblical verses taken from the story of the Resurrection of Jesus.

The solemn Easter Vigil then took place during the night. Before the celebration, people gathered in front of the church and accompanied the lighting of the fire with the traditional hymn. Then the celebration of the vigil service began, in which four adult catechumens received the sacraments of Christian initiation. At the end of the great vigil, everyone gathered in the square where, with joyful and traditional dances, they celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Also on Easter day, many people attended the two Masses in the church, where six children received Baptism initiated by the parish priest. The celebrations were prepared by Fr. Zbigniew Kwiecień and animated by a large group of young people and children who, like every Sunday, faithfully served at the altar. 

Personally, it was a grace to celebrate the Paschal Mystery in this land of Albania, where until thirty years ago a regime ruled which, the first in history, declared itself an atheist and decreed war against God and the Church. Therefore, despite the suffering and pain, the faith of these people, including many young people, more than ever illuminates everyone and cries out that, beyond the darkness of the cross and of death, the light of the Resurrection awaits us!

Br. Gianluigi Colucci CSsR
Redemptorist Mission of Albania

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