ONE @ 50: The Long Good Friday of Albanian Christians

In honor of ONE magazine’s 50th-anniversary year, the CNEWA blog series, ONE @ 50: From the Vault, aims to revive and explore the wealth of articles published in ONE magazine throughout its history. Amid intense suffering in the world, this article published in Spring 1986 on the persecution of Albania’s Christians is an ever-relevant reminder of the dangers to human freedom by partisan political extremism.

Read an excerpt from “The Long Good Friday of Albanian Christians” below, then read the full story.

Albania, a land whose religious roots go back to the earliest days of Christianity, receives little attention. Yet it is the world’s most rigorously atheist state, in which all religious signs have been officially and legally eliminated. Its government has sustained one of the most persistent persecutions against religion in the modern era, and its victims are Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic. Still, Albania and its people remain little known to Western Christians.

John Paul II’s recent encyclical on the Slavic religious tradition, however, recognizes the Eastern European Christians who have lived under atheist regimes since World War II. No one can be surprised if in turn the pope is denounced in a country whose population is 13 percent Catholic. The harsh words of some Albanian officials who accuse the Holy Father of being a hypocritical actor suggest the sort of hostility and persecutions all believers undergo in modern-day Albania. Similar words were heard against Paul VI, who definitely was not, like John Paul II in his youth, an actor.

The engineer of this unique sort of state atheism was Enver Hoxha, who died on April 11, 1985. He had directed over 40 years of religious persecution against his own people. He established an absolutely closed state in which citizens were rarely allowed to leave and no foreigners could visit except under strict censorship and under tight surveillance. His policies tried to isolate Albania from the world. Its systematic efforts included official attempts in the late 1940s to separate the Albanian church from the Holy See, as well as official “Decrees of Atheism” in 1967 and 1976, after which all 327 Catholic churches in Albania were closed — often destroyed or turned into secular institutions such as museums.

The list of Albanian clergy, bishops and religious killed or kept in prison camps is so long that it is hard to comprehend why it is not better known. The record of victims of brutal persecution in Albania ranges from Father Leke Luli’s murder by guerrilla forces in 1944 to Father Ndoc Luli, S.J., being sentenced to death in 1980 for baptizing twins born to his nephew’s family.

Read more.

James V. Schall, S.J., is an associate professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University and the author of numerous books and articles on politics and faith.

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