In Albania, a country that up until thirty years ago was declared an atheist State, religions today live an experience of good coexistence that gives hope to interreligious dialogue. On reaching Scutari at the invitation of the local Archbishop, Msgr. Angelo Massafra OFM, on the 25th anniversary of the historic visit of Saint John Paul II (April 1993), the national delegates for relations with Muslims bear witness to the interest and widespread work of the Catholic Church for dialogue with Muslims in Europe. During this three-day meeting, the delegates of the bishops’ conferences discussed the figure of the Muslim believer and some pastoral issues.
The Church in Europe is engaged in dialogue with the various Muslim communities at various levels (academic, religious, and social, but also dogmatic, juridical, and spiritual). Dialogue is not an aspiration, but a daily experience with its joys and its challenges. As a result of the sharing of experiences and very lively and participated debates, European Islam shows a plural face: a multitude of Muslim communities, whose diversity brings so many challenges for Christians. This means that the path so far covered, for it to become effective today, requires that we listen to each other’s religious experiences.
In Albania, the participants encountered a reality that lives the presence of different religious communities in a constructive harmony. The cruel and painful experience of a totalitarian regime that has imposed a State atheism has led to a mutual moving closer of all believers, giving rise to a great sense of tolerance and respect among believers of different religions. Albania is a country that lives the mysticism of the encounter. It is this all-Albanian peculiarity that has inspired the national delegates, who were at the fifth edition of their meeting, to explore the theme of the encounter in mysticism, by promoting “the dialogue of spirituality”. In Scutari, the participants set out to strengthen their contacts with Muslim communities also on the level of spirituality.
Part of the work was dedicated to tracing the fundamental profiles of Muslim believers and the ways in which they live their relationship with God. The theme has been explored with the contribution of two representatives of the Muslim communities in Albania: a Sunni imam and the leader of the national Bektashi community. The interventions emphasized the role of freedom, not only in terms of religious choice, but also concerning how believers live their relationship with God within their own religious family: many different ways to liberate the ego in order to reach communion with God. In the Sufi tradition this is achieved through the accompaniment of a spiritual teacher. The faithful is incorporated within a community journey, which is never an individualistic journey. This interior journey, which reaches the depths of the human heart, an intimate and singular place of dialogue with God, leads Christians and Muslims to recognize themselves as belonging to the same humanity created by God. It is from there that dialogue, especially the dialogue of life and spirituality, can grow and develop relationships of true friendship and true fraternity.
Subsequently, the participants explored three pastoral areas that concern the relations with Muslims. The first, from Austria, was about the presentation of the catechumenate to welcome people who come from Muslim circles and have asked for being baptized. The second was a deepening of the spiritual experience based on what Msgr. Claude Rault, Bishop emeritus of Laghouat Ghardaïa, lived in Algeria. Msgr. Rault was co-founder, along with Fr. Christian de Chergé (prior of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine) of the initiative Ribat al Salam (bond of peace) through which a small group of Christians developed a dialogue of spirituality with some Muslim friends and the Sufi confraternity of Medea. Finally, we listened to a French experience of accompanying mixed Christian-Muslim couples, which are in themselves a place for interreligious dialogue and a pastoral challenge to be followed. In fact, the need for a personalized accompaniment of these families – especially regarding the religious education of the children – and an education for responsible love for couples, came out as urgent calls. In this task, the Church and Muslim communities are called to work on a responsible dialogue for the good of these families.
During the meeting, reading was given of the message that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, sent to the participants and in which he invited “Christians and Muslims to promote mutual respect, objectivity in speaking and writing about each other’s religion, benevolence, compassion, and mercy.” In order for dialogue to continue in a peaceful and constructive atmosphere, “it is necessary – the cardinal wrote – a new effort on both sides to avert the ‘hate speech’ that is at the origin of mutual suspicions, discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, and resentments.”
In Scutari, the national delegates visited the Great Mosque of the city, the convent of the Poor Clares – a former Franciscan convent used as prison for prisoners of State during the totalitarian regime -, and the diocesan museum containing various testimonies of the 38 Albanian martyrs.
The meeting ended with a presentation on the theological status of Islam in contemporary Christian reflection, a theme that was delivered by the Second Vatican Council and which opens up prospects for deepening the experiences of dialogue which came about and have been lived throughout Europe. On the final day, Msgr. Brendan Leahy D.D., Bishop of Limerick and head of the Interreligious Dialogue section of the Commission for Evangelization and Culture of CCEE, presided over a Mass in the Cathedral church of Scutari and presented some reflections at the end of the meeting.
The meeting was closed with a visit to the Bektashi Shrine of Krujë, the spiritual center of the same confraternity.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Albania, Archbishop Charles John Brown, and the Archbishop of Tirana-Durazzo, Msgr. George Frendo OP, President of the Albanian Bishops’ Conference, took part in the meeting.
Other information (Photos) will be available here.