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“I have the best Sisters sin the world.” In Albania amidst apostolate and prayers, for the rediscovery of the missionary Church

A comprehensive portrait of the missionary and contemplative apostolate of the nuns in Albania, narrated by their bishop, who did not hesitate to recognize "the greatness of these extraordinary women, whose unconditional dedication stirs hopes and dreams of a Church in full discipleship, fully apostolic and wholly missionary"

The wrinkles on Sister Josephine’s face, the slight curvature of Sister Bernarda’s shoulders, reveal the burden of age and of many fatigues, but their smile and their gaze reflect the youth of their spirit. Not to mention Sister Teresa of the community of Sainte Jeanne-Antide, 81 years old with the determination of a tireless missionary, a task she carries out together with the other nuns of the two communities in the diocese.

The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian nuns of the Cecca Foundation work tirelessly with the poor and the sick in the city of Rrëshen and in the villages of Bushkash, Stojan and Ulëz, with poor children and peasant families.

My diocese is adorned with the African colours of the Sisters of Tanzania, Sister Julitha and Sister Joys together with charming Sister Clara, our certified Sicilian who sings old Italian songs to us at every meeting. The Dorothean Sisters in Suç are a true gift from God to all the local population and especially to the poorest. They opened an after-school service, assist poor women and teach catechism in the villages.
“In my diocese I have the best Sisters in the world”, I often say jokingly, with great affection – and some truth. They really are the best. I must say they are a fully fledged part of my presbytery and work very hard, especially in places where priests can only visit once a month. I am always impressed and in admiration of the great love and dedication characterising their service. I learn from them, from their femininity, tenderness and attention to details, every day. Their life is alive, perhaps because it is also free from the many structures that sometimes, in Western countries, ultimately repress the spirit of enterprise.

That’s why it often saddens me to see nuns, even young ones, especially from the Countries of the South of the world arriving into Italy or elsewhere, who end up living in infirmaries or in hostels of religious Congregations, when they could be missionaries in their home countries and in many others.

My nuns are one such example. Forgive the possessive pronoun, but I can’t do otherwise. My place walk to places unreachable by car, and when they cannot solve situations of poverty, they pray with the families and share with them all they have. Soon the Lord will make us the gift of the contemplative nuns of Mother Teresa. They have already been here, they saw the situation and decided to stop and pray in the diocese of Rrëshen.

We can’t do everything, but the Lord can.

After all, it is precisely in order to combat that worldly spirit of efficiency, of productivity, of a suffocating activism, which sometimes also affects us bishops, priests and religious, that we have requested to house also a female Institute of contemplative life.

I studied religious life when I completed my licentiate at the Gregorian University, but now I experience first hand the greatness of these extraordinary women, whose unconditional dedication instil hopes and dreams of a Church in full discipleship, fully apostolic and wholly missionary. Religious and diocesan life in countries like Albania have no definite boundaries. Indeed, what need is there for boundaries? We have diocesan priests who live out the evangelical counsels and nuns whose diocesan life is expressed in their apostolate, like diocesan priests.

For it is a missionary Church and so it remains, indeed it’s always missionary and, in my opinion, so it should be everywhere. In permanent mission. I have decided that the next pastoral letter that I will write to the diocese will have precisely this theme, paraphrasing the martyrs of Abitene: “Without the mission we cannot live”. When the polar star is Christ, and the service is to Him, to his poor and outcast limbs, to those in whom he identifies, then differences are not an obstacle but a blessing.

On the day of the Chrism Mass I decided to take a picture with all my Sisters, after which we had dinner with the priests, the few priests, to celebrate not only the anointing of priestly ordination, but also the very special and founding anointing, the common anointing of baptism and Confirmation, which makes us God’s anoints, disciples of Christ sent to proclaim the Good News.

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