How can we thank God for the 15 years that our missionaries have been here, on Albanian soil? God wanted to give us many graces through each servidora and priest that has been in this country, since the seeds of the Word were not sown in vain. Certainly, God did not waste any of the many sacrifices, often suffered in silence, of those who offered themselves completely, and many continue this offering today, in order to make Christ reign here.
Divine Providence ordained that on December 8th, 2001, the ship with the first missionaries from our religious family arrived to the “Durazo” port, in Albania, to found in the small village of “Kalivaç”. This was our response to the petition that the bishop of the Diocese of Lezha, His Excellency Ottavio Vitale, made to Fr. Carlos Miguel Buela. Even more, with this foundation we were fulfilling a promise made by our founder, in person, to St. Mother Teresa of Calcuta, to send missionaries from our religious family to her native land.
At that time, 2001, the country was barely emerging from communism, something that could be seen at every turn, due to its devastating consequences. The panorama was desolate: endless grey buildings, which seemed to frame the prevailing sadness, or better said, the general lack of hope.
The way to the little village of Kalivaç, situated in the middle of the mountains, was long and nothing more than a dirt road up high, which crossed a river that did not always follow its course. Arriving in Kalivaç we realized that the town consisted of a school, a little store, the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which would be entrusted to the Priests of the IVE, a small dispensary and the house of the sisters. Then between the mountains, far in the distance you could see a little house and then another.
The work of the sisters was mainly to help with the parish activities, and as far as possible, to attend the dispensary. Despite not knowing the language, they began with catechism classes. They would teach in Italian, and a few youth from the area would be the translators. The children who attended the school came walking from far away. Many of them had to cross the river, sometimes in very low temperatures, on foot, without shoes. At the end of school hours they would come to our house to learn Christian doctrine. It was beautiful to see their enthusiasm on arrival, despite having been at school all morning, and the school was in bad repair, to the point that many of the classrooms did not have glass in the windows, and the floor was missing in various places. Since our house did not have room for all of them, some of the classes were outside (in the freezing cold), nevertheless they remained attentive to the words of the religious.
I should point out that the children, like most of the people, were weather beaten and suffered without complaint the inclement weather, whether cold or windy, hard work, absence of electricity (they could only count on a few hours per day), the unpredictable food, etc. It was impressive how they treated the missionaries, seeking to give them the best that they had, even in the midst of their poverty. It was normal to see them come to our house to give us goat cheese, a bottle of milk, a liter of liquor (wine??) or some cabbages. They were very generous and very respectful of those sent by God.
I don’t want to continue without telling you about the first Christmas in Albania. Father had suggested celebrating the Christmas Mass on the 24th of December, which presented various difficulties and we ran the risk that no one would be able to attend the solemn celebration, since it was extremely cold, and at night on the mountain everything is more difficult; on the other hand there was no light, the people did not live close by, etc. Nevertheless everything was prepared for a grand ceremony. The church was decorated with what we had, and the generator was started to light the church. When it was getting dark, it began to snow. We went to the church to wait. It was exciting when we realized that we could make out lights from far away, torches…it was the families coming down from the mountain, dressed in their traditional shepherd’s dress, walking through the snow. It was the new Bethlehem. On the tips of some of the mountains shone the bonfires that the youth had made to announce the holy night. The church was full. At the end of the liturgy, the families went out of the church happy, greeting one another. Everything was covered in white.
This was the Albania that the first missionaries of our Religious family knew. Not for nothing had it been named “Albania” from “albus”, white, for the white of the snow on the mountains. Yet not only for this, but the name of this country in their original language, is “shqiperia”, which has the lovely meaning “land of the eagles”, since the eagle is the symbol on the flag carried by “Skanderberg” (Alexander) the national hero who defeated the Turks.
We thank God because the small seeds of this beginning did not remain infertile. Little by little vocations blossomed and the apostolic works multiplied.
We ask the Virgin Mary to protect these lands, and fill them with hope.
Madre Maria Meritxell.