For the Catholics of Albania, the past year has been remarkable. In December 2015 came the news of the death of Archbishop Rrok Mirdita of Tirana, the principal figure in the restoration of Catholicism after communism. He had been ordained by St John Paul II in April 1993 during the pope’s visit to a nation that had suffered by far the most severe religious persecution of any country in modern times.
Then this year, on September 4, Pope Francis canonised Mother Teresa of Calcutta, an ethnic Albanian. She had been born in Skopje, now the capital of Macedonia, in 1910, two years before the emergence of the modern state of Albania after 500 years of Ottoman rule.
Another significant event was the nomination as a cardinal of Fr Ernest Troshani Simoni, an 88-year-old priest who spent 28 years in labour camps. Pope Francis was moved to tears when the two men met in Tirana in 2014. Fr Simoni will receive his red hat on November 19.
Finally, last Saturday Vatican Cardinal Angelo Amato beatified 38 martyrs of the communist era in Shkodër Cathedral.
Albania is the size of Wales, with a population of nearly three million. Albanians living in neighbouring countries and worldwide number roughly eight million. There are about 30,000 in Britain.
Albania was one of the oldest Christian civilisations, but on account of the Turkish occupation it is now the only majority Muslim country in Europe, with a minority of Catholics, predominantly in the north, and Orthodox, chiefly in the south.
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