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Albania

Written by Fr Bernard Caruana OP

The Dominican Order’s presence in Albania dates back many years ago when in the 15th century the local Catholic Church was endowed with several convents scattered throughout Albania. Some of the brothers were called to serve God's people as bishops. One of them, Pal Engjelli, for the first time, brought to Albanian the formula used in baptism and thus contributed to the development of the Albanian language.

 

Five centuries later, in 1992, Master Damian Byrne OP, through the Italian Dominican nuns of Blessed Imelda, encouraged the Maltese Dominicans to embark on a mission in this land as well. The visit to the Province of Majesty Timothy Radcliffe OP in January 1995 brought with it the official invitation and, after discussion in the Provincial Chapter of the same year, it was decided to open the Dominican Province Matlija its first mission in Albania. This took place on 18 August 1996. It was not an easy time. The communist and atheist dictatorial regime of Enver Hoxha had just ended. Albania was the only country in communist Europe where atheism was the constitutional faith. By law you had to believe that there is no God, and therefore, every religious act or gesture was considered a crime and deserved disciplinary punishment that sometimes led to death as evidenced by the lives of forty martyrs of the local Catholic Church.

   

First missionaries Fr John Frendo (who died in Albania on 2 January 2003)  and Fr. Here, the brothers and the various Maltese volunteers who contributed, did their best to improve the condition of the Church that was already built, and in the construction of a house next to it.

  

The times were not easy. Just in that period  war broke out, and the Kosovo crisis. But the courage of the first monks was great and they remained there despite the various advice to leave. In fact they were very instrumental, later, in helping the humanitarian crisis that arose through the war. It is worth mentioning here the many Maltese volunteers who went up to help in this time of crisis and so critical of the new Mission of the Province.

 

In the fall of 1999, the wise move of our missionaries moved from Sukth to Durres. In this second largest city in Albania (after the capital Tirana), also with the generosity and help of many Maltese, they are  they built a parish church with a capacity of 400 people, a Pastoral-Social Center, and a suitable house to live in. From here, the Maltese monks were able to better carry out their work of evangelization, teaching, sacramental work and social assistance to those in need.  In Durres the monks serve the 20,000 Catholics scattered in various villages on the outskirts of the City - the main ones including Lake Mirdita, Porto Romano Fushë and Koder, Sectori Rinia and  Vëllazerim.

 

It is worth noting that since the founding of this Mission, many brothers and sisters have visited it and spent some time working on it. At present the community of monks in Albania is formed by Fr. Constantin Mamo, Fr. Bernard Caruana and Fr. Geoffrey Bugeja.

 

The efforts of the Maltese Dominicans were rewarded when on September 23, 2006, Fr George Frendo OP was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Tirana-Durrës. In 2016, he was also appointed Archbishop of Tirana.

The Maltese Dominicans in Albania have the responsibility of two parishes, one in Durrës and the other in Laghja Mirdita.

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