“Faith”, the painful aspect of an Albanian miracle

Speech by the Prime Minister Edi Rama at the opening ceremony of the exhibition “Faith” in the Albanian Historic Museum:

Hello to everyone!

I have not seen this exhibition. I know that since the beginning of the preparations for the great visit we wanted to create a public space entirely and specifically devoted to faith, which would be visited by the people on the eve of the arrival of the Holy Father in Albania. So far we succeeded.

I know it has been hard to choose the way how to give life to this space, without falling into the easy triumph level of the propaganda banality, which has been accompanying us in Albania, like a shadow, since the time of socialist realism, whenever we choose to celebrate or recall something upon a decision from above.

I also know that I feel relieved and have believed that we have managed to attain another level of conceiving and giving life to the initial idea from the usual one in such cases, when except our very tenacious Minister of Culture, this effort was joined, following a strong and peculiar hesitation, by Edi Hila, to whom goes today all my gratitude for this very special contribution that I trust, yet without having seen the exhibition, that has precisely yielded the desired fruit.

Often I recall Christ’s famous phrase addressed to St. Thomas, the doubting disciple who sought to touch his body to believe in his resurrection, “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed it;  blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And often, cracking jokes and not necessarily a joke, I say that we Albanians are followers of Thomas, rather than of Jesus.

But today I do not need to see this exhibition to wholeheartedly thank Edi Hila, his colleague Zef Paci, together with the people of the Clergy and of the Ministry of Culture, for what they have achieved in quite a short period of time, with very limited costs and objective opportunities, but with a lot of talent, collaboration and undoubtedly with faith.

The challenge of the peaceful religious coexistence in Albania, that has gone through an unfolding spiritual darkness and frost of the past, and faced the great threats and temptations of today, was the impetus towards this exhibition. It is also a controversial topic of the day.

There are different and legitimate viewpoints as to the depths of religion among the Albanians and to the level of the Albanians’ tolerance. But not a single effort to understand ourselves, Albania, the history of our society better; however, it should not prevent us from appreciating as a rare wealth and preserving as the apple of the eyes: the harmonious coexistence between religions and religious communities; the respect for the other’s faith and the rite of the other’s religion; the unlimited social relations between the Muslims, who as a German traveler has written, “swear” for the four gospels “, and the Christians who say,” Wallahi! “”.

The coming to Albania of a universal spiritual leader, and a standard-bearer of human endeavor against exclusion, prejudice and segregation among people due to religion, color, ethnicity, or social stratum, as Pope Francis, and his willful and hopeful reception from Christians and Muslims without distinction, is in itself a rare miracle for the increasingly more troubled world, which we live in.

The how-s and  why-s coming from different often controversial viewpoints on the  Albanians’ relations with belief in God in general or the church and the mosque as the earthly images of belief  in one or the other religion, have little or no importance at the such a delicate moment for the world and so beautiful for Albania.

 

Nowadays, a fact, as meaningful as compelling to anyone among us, who sees what becomes of the world, and who understands that the world becomes smaller every day and that what is happening at this moment on the TV screen somewhere far away, the next moment might happen below your home, matters.

And it is a fact that among the Albanians there are no religious quarrels and divisions; Albanians do not have any conflicts or ethnic or religious wars with others, even there where they share with them a common earth and sky of the same state, city or village; the Albanians are Muslims and Christians, who strongly believe in the common European future and Albania is not a Muslim country, but a European country of Muslim and Christian citizens, embodying today an excellent example of religious coexistence

This makes Albania become really very, very important on the map of the journey of the God’s Messenger on earth, to preach peace, tolerance, solidarity with the weak, starting the way of his visits to Europe not from rich Brussels, but from poor Tirana; not from the European Union rather than from the Europe  still remaining outside the framework of the European family photography; not from the European Union but  from the Western Balkans that today, 100 years after the First World War, which broke out right here, and after 100 years of ideological wars, ethnic conflicts, religious divisions, bloody unrest on each border and life-long bitterness, sets to the world today a unique example of transformation in a space of peace and cooperation.

It is hard to imagine in today’s world another reality where such an exhibition can be opened.

Because in no other reality, religion and clergy were killed, mutilated, destroyed, burned and scorched like in Albania, but also because nowhere else like in Albania the clergy go and cooperate so well and easily amongst themselves as here.

Today I was seeing the front page of a daily newspaper, Pope Francis on the left and the head of the Albanian Muslim Community, on the right, my friend Skender Brucaj, who sees the visit of the Holy Father as a meaningful assessment of the religious coexistence in Albania. A picture worth 1 million words.

The preparation of this exhibition, in collaboration with the Albanian clergy as a whole, is worth a million words.

We are living in difficult times, friends, and before it gets better for the world which we live in, it will become increasingly difficult.

Pope Francis says that World War III has started.

Many may not agree.

However, the war that started in Iraq and in Syria, between a blind bestial force, calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and of the Levant and every being, community, country and state, that this force that has emerged from the dark encounters in its way of crime and blood, is not destined to remain within the framework of the digital information world.

This is a battle very similar to the fight with a deadly epidemic, the prevalence of which knows no borders, conventions, rules and previous experience and who sees or considers it as a threat that has no relation to him, risks to be too late when he may have to fight face to face against it alone.

This war is not only that part of what we see neither on television, nor the opposition to the epidemic that threatens to spread everywhere, through messaging with severed human heads addressed to America and its allies, it is not just the one the international alliance has begun against the horror-state in the territories occupied by it.

The fight against this horror epidemic that threatens our world today, our freedom, our rights as people and our aspirations as a society of democratic countries, is also our struggle, as Albanians and European citizens, to preserve and cultivate at all costs and form the seed of peace and harmonious coexistence between religions, communities, ethnicities and countries

It is the struggle of the Albanian Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic Clergy today, who more than ever need to show and are showing unity around the common Lord of love, understanding, tolerance and cooperation.

It is undoubtedly the struggle of Pope Francis that with the language of love and peace, is leading a frontal opposition against the evils that threaten internally and externally the consumer society and the rich who does not see the poor as his problem.

Pope John Paul II landed in Albania when the Cold War was over and the titanic effort of countries emerging from the collapse of the Communist empire, towards the European Union and NATO, had started.

Since then a lot of time has elapsed, but not such a long time so as not to reflect on the “why” of the visit of another pope, in such a globally small and insignificant country as Albania, over a period of just two decades.

Pope Francis comes to Albania when, what he calls the Third World War has started, and when the Muslim and Christian Albanians have just crowned, along with other neighbors in the region, a historic peace process on behalf of a joint future in the Union European.

From this crossroad, the Holy Father comes to speak not only to the Albanians, nor only to the peoples of this region, but throughout Europe, on the need for trust, union, exceeding the limits of the hitherto frameworks in order to jointly protect the future.

Today Europe needs the Balkans as much as the Balkans needs Europe. Today Europe needs the Albanians, as much Albanians need Europe.

Today the rich European Union should throw its glance in the direction of the poor Europe of our region, not as a reason to stay separate from the kilometers of integration files, but for a strong motive to get closer than ever before to it in the name of common protection from the epidemics that through the weakest kills the strongest, through the poorest kills the rich, through those who are closer kills those who are distant.

Today, just like America who is being threatened in its essence, the democratic Europe must confront the unbridled imagination of those who want to destroy the world with unlimited human cruelty returned in the darkness of the past millennia, not only with the power of weapons but also with the power of the union.

No matter how weak or poor our region is or feels today, it is firmly important that no country in the region feels remote from Europe and it does not experience the journey towards the European Union as a second-class citizen.

It is especially worth for the Albanians, with whom history has not been very generous and who today, should be respected for the contribution they have made ​​to peace in the Balkans, and not be prejudiced on account of religion; they must be adhered to the affiliation unanimously expressed as Europeans to the democratic world and not be prejudiced as a Muslim country; the Albanians should be respected without any hesitation even for all that blood and suffering that shed for Christianity, giving to Catholic church  forty martyrs, and not be prejudiced giddily why they pray to Allah in a country where Christmas and Bayram are celebrated and wished without noticing the border of religious affiliation.

The exhibition “Faith” is not intended to show Albanians as they are not.

It has not been a purpose to make this people seem more Catholic than the Pope, as the saying goes, in its relationship with the faith, nor make Albania appear as the house of the Lord himself. I am convinced that the authors of this exhibition have never gone in these directions. But I can’t do more than I have believed and said without having seen the exhibition yet. Neither have I more to say, except to wish you all a very impressive experience.

Thank you once again and this time not only the authors and their associates, but also all the guests who have come, believing without seeing, that it is worthwhile.

Thank you!

***

An entirely special exhibition dedicated to the religious faith opened tonight at the premises of the National Historic Museum, on the eve of the visit of Pope Francis in Albania.

The exhibition evokes the contribution of the Clergy in Albania before, during and after the period of dictatorship, their sacrifice in generations and promotes inter-faith coexistence, as a distinctive feature of the Albanian society.

This exhibition was made possible by the Ministry of Culture and National Historic Museum, in cooperation with religious communities, under the auspices of the Prime Minister Edi Rama. The photographic and film material provided by the religious communities is curated by art curators experienced Edi Hila and his assistant Paci Zef

The exhibition will remain open for about a month, from 20 September until 20 October.