On Pope in Albania, relations with Muslims and Mother Teresa

With Gëzim AlpionLecturer in Sociology, University of Birmingham.

Questions:

1. As Albania is a Muslim country how much is the Pope’s visit of Albania important for the relations of the Catholic Church with the Muslim world, in general how would you evaluate the relations of the Catholic Church with the Muslim world under Pope Francis?

2. Mother Teresa came from Albania. Her and Pope Francis are somehow linked by a focus on poor. Would you say that Pope Francis can somehow use her legacy?

Answers:

1. Officially speaking, Albania is neither a ‘Muslim’ nor a ‘Christian’ country. Constitutionally, Albania is a secular country and the government is laicist.

State atheism, initiated by communist government in 1967, came to an end in December 1990. Albanians are free to practice the religion of their choice; the most followed religions are Islam and Christianity.

Albania is the cradle of Christianity in Europe since the time of the apostles. Parts of today’s Christian Europe lagged behind Albania by 10 or 11 centuries by the time Albanians had started to convert to Christianity in the first century AD. This is proved by the ancient churches across Albania

The advent of the Ottomans into territories inhabited by Albanians in the 15th century and especially in the wake of the 25-year resistance that Albanians mounted against the Ottoman Empire following the death in 1468 of the ‘Athlete of Christ’, as the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg was acknowledged by the Vatican, the religious configuration of Albania changed significantly.

Albania should rightly be seen not only in Europe but across the world as a place where thanks more to the wisdom of the Albanians, a wisdom that is found primarily in ancient nations, than anything else, whose people have never suffered among themselves from religious conflicts. Religion has been used to divide Albanians and even wipe out if not the entirely nation at least parts of it by the invading Ottomans and some of Albania’s neighbours.

The Pope is not going on 21 September to a Muslim Albania but to a country where people adhere to Islam and Christianity.

In visiting Albania, the Pope, as the head of the Catholic Church, will have a chance to walk in the footsteps of St Paul. All roads may lead to Rome, but Christianity arrived in Rome firstly via Albania.

2.  In a sense, the Vatican started using the legacy of Mother Teresa more than half a century ago. By the time the Second Vatican Council opened in 1962, Mother Teresa had been preaching and practising her faith as well as focusing on the poor much along the directives issued by the Council when it closed in 1965 by at least 15 years.

One of the merits of Pope John Paul II is that he understood from the first how important a figure Mother Teresa was both for his papacy and Christianity at large.

All indications are that Pope Francis is following in Mother Teresa’s footsteps in focusing on the poor.

Where this pontiff, like the Vatican in general, is lagging behind Mother Teresa is the issue of forgiveness. The Pope is correct to emphasise that he wishes to visit Albania to give a message of hope to this country that has suffered from the ideologies of the past. What is missing in the Pope’s message so far regarding this visit is forgiveness. Mother Teresa’s religious philosophy was founded on forgiveness. Hence her enduring appeal.

The best way for Pope Francis to use effectively Mother Teresa’s legacy for the benefit of the Catholic Church, Christianity and the world’s poor, is by resuming her canonization process which was stalled following the death of her great friend and ally Pope John Paul II, now a saint. It appears, when it comes to sainthood, women, including Mother Teresa, have to follow a longer queue. Some Catholic habits, it seems, die hard.

 

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One Response

  1. […] Teresa’s supporters for her to be canonised. The delay in making Mother Teresa a saint also rekindled debates about the Holy See’s “double-standards” in recognising the contribution of nuns and the […]

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