Communicating hope

Mons. Massafra: a complex social and religious situation, focus on a "renewed commitment of growth in faith"

Hope – will be the leitmotiv of the apostolic visit of Pope Francis in Tirana, Albania, Sunday, September 21. “Together with God, towards unfailing hope”, is the slogan with which the bishops of Albania have decided to welcome the Pope. Not only… Also the name given to the official website of the event, www.spes.al, is rather evocative, along with the logo, which represents Christian faithful revived from the blood of the martyrs, holding the Cross as their banner. Thus this hope is founded on the martyrs’ witness. What are the feelings characterizing the local Church’s anticipation of the Pope’s visit? Vincenzo Corrado, for Sir Europe, asked this question to Monsignor Angelo Massafra, archbishop of Scutari-Pult, president of Albania’s Bishops’ Conference. How is the Country preparing for the meeting with Pope Francis? “It’s a long, laborious preparation that involves all civil and Church representatives. It’s a precious opportunity to sit around the same table and address not only purely technical issues but especially the fundamental thoughts accompanying Pope Francis in this apostolic visitation”. One of these ideas is hope, as highlighted in the slogan chosen for the Papal visit. What hope for Albanian Church and society? “The Albanian Church is a Church that wishes to be confirmed in the faith by the bishop of Rome. But it’s also a Church which – according to Saint Paul, first evangelizer – can create richness through its poverty. The witness of ‘resisting’ in the faith is part and parcel of a deeply religious population which, regardless of their creed, gave birth to champions of courage: our martyrs. The hope they have passed down to us is a challenge that we welcome before the new threat of secularism, which is probably making more victims than Communism. It is that very hope that we wish to communicate to Europe and to the rest of the world”. The visit to Tirana will be the Pope’s fourth international visit and the first in the European continent. For Europe, Francis has chosen the periphery… “The glance extended towards peripheries is a prominent feature of Francis’ papacy. His decision of reaffirming his presence in Europe starting with Albania is not only a reason of pride for us Albanians, it also represents the “dignity” of a Church which, in her poverty, knows that she is following the teachings of Jesus, her master”. 21 years have passed since the visit of John Paul II: since then, in which ways have the Church and society changed? “It’s hard to retrace the changes of the Albanian Church in 21 years in just a few words. What I can say is that it’s a young Church, just like her population. It is a Church on the way, exposed to the dialectic tensions between the past and future, with a gap to bridge, namely, the years of Communist rule. It’s a Church that interacts with society to the extent of being at the forefront of efforts, despite its scarce forces in terms of clergy, to uplift the people from social and cultural plagues stemming from the dictatorship and from pressing secularism alike. It’s a Church that doesn’t turn a blind eye before forms of degradation that overshadow the image of Albanians in Europe and in the world, namely, production and smuggling of narcotic drugs, corruption, crime, etc. But most of all, it’s a Church that strives to highlight and bring to the fore all the positive aspects – which are many, and are in large part linked to faith! – embedded within culture and society, because in those positive features lies the secret of true regeneration”. The visit will be characterized by three significant moments: prayers (Mass and the Vespers) with various ecclesial realities, the encounter with leaders of other religions and Christian denominations, followed by a meeting at the Betania Centre with children and people assisted by charity bodies. Are these three prominent aspects of the local Church? “These are three fundamental aspects which pertain to us. In fact, ours is a missionary Church. Since the opening of borders, missionary men and women have brought fresh air into the Church of Albania. They are a support to Christian communities still today. Our Church is open to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Albanians are a major example of coexistence between different faiths; the faith we share in the only God is a common ground that can prompt solutions to the problems affecting the society in which we live. Finally, our Church thrives through charity: it’s the charity of other Churches that helped us in times of need, but until there still is a piece of bread, it will be shared with everyone”. Which are the expectations and the fruits the visit is expected to deliver? “A renewed commitment of growth in faith, that the faith that animates us may become the fountainhead of unlimited Christian love”.

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