By Christine Saah
“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” – Romans 12:12
Bishop Ottavio Vitale of Lezhë, Albania, invited CMC and the Language and Catechetical Institute to teach Catechesis and share our faith with the young people of his diocese. Imagine being unable to go to Church, facing torture and execution for expressing one’s faith, and being forced to be an atheist state. That was the reality in Albania up until 1990 when Communism ended in Albania. Despite the trials, there is great hope and great inspiration especially from the Martyrs of Albania who were beatified this past November. We were there just three days, but God allowed us so many opportunities to share his love.
Our team included 2 FUS students, Jennifer Healy the Co-Director of LCI, one of the English teachers, and the other missionary and me. On Thursday the 16th, just after arriving, we headed to the Cathedral for Adoration and Mass. We then explored some of Lezhë catching the end of a beautiful
sunset on the beach. We ended the night with dinner at Bishop’s house. We immediately felt welcomed, but had some nervousness about our first day of work.
Friday included Mass, breakfast, and a visit to the Catholic School. We observed 2 Englis
h lessons, and Joe, our LCI teacher, taught a third English lesson. I haven’t had much exposure to learning English as a foreign language, but I enjoyed seeing how this school taught. It was incredible to see the level of English these students were at, but at the same time we found out that the schools have some restrictions when it comes to the topics discussed in the English classes and other courses. In particular, they cannot teach religion in school even if it’s a privately-funded Catholic school. We then headed to a school that is run by a religious order that teaches deaf and mute students. We were asked to give a catechism lesson with short notice to over 120 middle school children, and spoke on why Christ has to be first in our lives. As visitors, we had the freedom to teach and pray as we wanted.
After a short break and lunch, we then headed to the seminary, which is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel. This visit helped us see how the effects of communism go beyond education. The Seminarians shared with us that they want to learn English to connect with the rest of the world, and that there was a generational gap because of communism. Young people’s parents grew up in a time when they couldn’t talk about the faith and only focused on studies. They also expressed the concern of technology and how it takes away from real relationships. This prepared us all for our Youth Retreat on Saturday.
The Youth Retreat included 300 young people that were invited to our presentation on chastity. I had never spoken on chastity, and was nervous about everything being translated into Albanian. We started off together explaining how God created us, how original sin changed us, and what we could do to go back to how God made us. I gave a testimony to the girls with lots of help from Milana, an FUS student, and from Saint Mother Teresa. Her meditation of “I Thirst” became a huge theme in getting the message of chastity across. It was inspiring for me to look at St. Mother Teresa and the Martyrs of Albania, their hometown heroes, and to have students ask us if we were willing to die for Christ today. Of course, we answered with a confident yes. The day flew by, and we had 2 more Catechesis lessons on Sunday before heading home.
The big take away for me is to really ask myself everyday if I am ready to die for the faith. I pray that I can always respond with a confident YES! Christ is truly winning hearts in in Albania even if there are still challenges. The Church is alive, and needs more young people to keep it alive. Please pray for Bishop Ottavio and in particular the youth of Lezhë. Pray that they carry on in this battle to follow Christ!