Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplatives in Bushat, Shkoder, Albania (1991 – 2011)
Introduction: “Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give him advice?” (Rom 11: 34).
It was Monday 22nd July 1991. I was travelling with Rev. Deacon Earlyin in his car from Carmel, Indiana, to Airlington, Virginia (U.S.A.) after our first U.S.A. Lay M.C. national retreat from Friday 19th to Sunday 21st July 1991. On our way as we stopped for fuel both for the car and for those in the car, I took the occasion to call the Brothers in Rome to find out how they were.
Bro. Piet M.C. in Tirana
Bro. Piet M.C. said that Mother Teresa M.C. from Tirana, Albania, wanted me to call her at the earliest and gave me her telephone number. So I called her straight away and spoke with her. She wanted one of the priest Brothers to go to Albania to take care of the spiritual needs of the newly started five communities of the Sisters in Albania. According to Blessed Teresa M.C., although there were 23 surviving Albanian priests, they were rather old and unprepared to guide the Sisters. Accordingly Bro. Piet M.C., whom I met on my arrival at the airport in Fiumicino, Rome, left for Albania on Wednesday 31st July 1991.
Man cannot defeat God!
Albania was in a very bad shape both spiritually and materially. There was nothing else to count on. The long ruled communist dictatorship – from 1946 to 1990, had devastated not only the country so totally, but worse still, destroyed the mind of the people. The eschatological and transcendental dimension of our life was obliterated. The people lived in fear, lived in anger, lived in despair. They were cornered from every angle by the dictator who reduced the people of Albania to think that they lived to work, suffer and die like or even worse than animals.
Albania of yesterday has a very sad story then. But let us remember the past with gratitude and purified memories, praying at the same time for those persecutors of God. They tried to kill the “Author of life” (Acts 3: 15), but without much success. The apparent victory was not over man but over God, but it did not last too long, as man can never defeat God. History bears witness to the many untold stories of saints and martyrs. The Church is not there to hail the persecutors but the persecuted. History never gives honour to those men and women who were so cruel to their fellow human beings, nor does the Church ever canonize a single persecutor if he or she was not converted, like St. Paul, for example.
God found the way to conquer evil with good, hatred with love, atheism with theism, hatred for the Church and God with love and devotion for the Church and for God. Her name was Mother Teresa Bojahxiu. The more Henver Hoxha, the dictator tried to get away from God and the Church, the more God tried to bring people of the world closer to God. Henver Hoxha was an Albanian by birth. Blessed Teresa M.C. was of Albanian blood though she was not born in Albania, but in Skopje, present day Macedonia. It is God who fought the battle. He was the captain of the army through his beloved Son Jesus, whom he loved (cf. Mt 17: 5), who called a very faithful, humble and obedient girl of Albanian blood. The war began on Tuesday 10th September 1946, when the enemy began his battle against the Church. It was fought in love, with love and for love. It was a gentle war of love conquering evil, sickness and misery with undefeatable love like, for example, fighting against abortion by adoption: “If nobody wants, I want” war.
The whole world today is in such sort of war. Spiritual values are being trampled underfoot. Promiscuity has become an epidemic enterprise with no proper remedy. Today human beings think that they have reached the highest peak of scientific and technological advancement. But which century in history has lived with so much insecurity and lack of trust? Which century has lived so much for the ephemeral realities and superficial things?
Our first visit, promise and impression
On 7th August 1991, with Bro. Luke M.C. and Dr. Giancarlo Velluti and I, with a huge van loaded with food stuff and other things took off from Rome via Bari port. Since the port in Durazzo was still closed, we took the ferry Set Stefen, a Yugoslavian vessel to Bar, in Montenegro, where we had to go through customs and immigration, which we did, and then continued our journey through hills, valleys, mountains and lakes, through rough and zig zag roads to come to Hoti, the Albanian border. For me it was like a dream.
Dr. Giancarlo Velluti drove down to the newly started house of our M.C. Sisters in Shkoder, where we were welcomed so warmly, like Abraham welcoming the three men in one of the hottest summer afternoons under the oak tree in Mamre (cf. Gen 18: 1 ff.). Sr. Jasmine M.C., the Superior, and her community of Sisters were overjoyed to see us. Like Abraham, who prepared the meal for the three men in the desert, the Sisters too prepared the meal for us in the “Albanian desert”.
I spoke of our intention of opening a house in Albania in the nearest future, preferably in Tirana area. The official Church was not yet established. There were no bishops, no Nuncio, no parish priests. There were not any religious or Christian symbols yet, not even in the burial ground. The M.C. Sisters in Shkoder promised to find a place for us by September of the same year.
Albania then had a population of roughly three million people. There were less than fifty cars in all of Albania, I was told. I have seen poverty and misery in its crude form in different parts of the world. But the poverty in Albania was very unique and indescribable. The poverty of Albania was material as well as spiritual. They could not go any further. They really had hit the bottom. One had to hope against all hope to live and work in Albania which, with God’s help, the Brothers tried to do from the very beginning.
We then left for Tirana. It took about three hours to reach Tirana, to cover the distance of about one hundred Km. Dr. Giancarlo drove slowly and very prudently. There was only one single zig-zag road that connected the north to the south of Albania. We prayed the Rosary, we shared our feelings. My eyes could not believe nor was my mind prepared to accept everything I saw on that day in that trip.
Determination was the word I wanted to dwell on. In Jesus and with Jesus we can do all things, even the humanly speaking impossible things. What is impossible for man is possible for and with God. And that was what exactly happened.
As we approached the Sisters’ house in Tirana, our heart beat began to increase. We met the Sisters, we met our Bro. Piet M.C. who came to Tirana a week before (31st July 1991). Bro. Luke M.C. stayed back with Bro. Piet M.C. to return to join in our retreat in Rome in the last week of the month of August 1991, while after staying just for two days I left Tirana for Rome by air on Saturday 10th August 1991, to return to Shkoder soon after our retreat. That was what we did. Mr. Salvatore Caccamo (R.I.P.), one of the LMCs and volunteers from Italy, agreed to drive Bro. Mark M.C. and I. So we left Rome on Wednesday on 4th September 2011 and reached Shkoder on the following day. Our Sisters in Shkoder had totally forgotten of their promise to find a house for us. So we ourselves had to look for it.
Second visit: looking for a house
So on Friday 6th September we toured around the entire city of Shkoder with a group of young people, who introduced us to several people. Although we spent the entire morning, saw many places, old and abandoned buildings, met many people, including some of the Albanian priests, we could not conclude anything concrete. We returned to the Sisters’ convent by noon or thereabout.
House in Bushat: questions and challenges
“So, how did it go?”, asked Sr. Jasmine M.C., the Superior of Shkoder Community. “Nothing yet…”, I answered. She then introduced us to Don Luigi Cira, one of the surviving Albanian priests, who told us that he could take us to a place which is about 15 Km South of Shkoder, on the Shkoder-Tirana road.
We reached Bushat by 3.00 p.m. accompanied by Don Luigi Cira, who fortunately spoke Italian quite well. As soon as the people of Bushat saw us, a crowd was gathered around us. Many of them knew Don Luigi who explained to them who we were and what we were looking for. The people became very enthusiastic, while I was not at all impressed by it, mainly for two reasons. First of all it was not within the city limits of Shkoder; for me it appeared to be far out in the country side. Secondly because of how the whole place then looked like. It looked like an abandoned place.
Many questions and thoughts spontaneously began to rise in my mind. How much time might be required to put everything in order? Where could we get the materials from? What could happen to the place after fixing, restructuring and reconstructing all? Now the Church is reduced to almost nothing, no proper Government either. On what ground can we start our community in such a place? What happens if tomorrow someone will come and claim the place, especially if they see that we have put all things in order? After spending so much money, doing so much work someone can come and claim the place. So I said to Don Luigi: “Don Luigi, thank you for bringing us here. But I don’t feel happy to accept the offer”. Don Luigi and some of the leading men of Bushat came forward and said: “This is the key, from today it is yours. This place is the centre of Bushat. You have the post office next door, also the telephone booth, and many other facilities. Besides, we are on the national highway. You must accept, you must take this place. We will sign the paper and give you. We want you, the Brothers of Mother Teresa M.C. here in Bushat. We want the holy Mass, no matter in what language the Mass is going to be celebrated. We want to pray, nothing more. Please do not refuse…Besides, we will help you to put the place in order, etc.” We decided to celebrate our first Mass, in Italian, on Sunday 8th September 1991.
So on the birth of the Virgin Mary we had our first thanksgiving Mass in Bushat in Italian and my homily was translated into Albanian by one of the M.C. Sisters, Sr. Amata M.C., who by then had already learnt well the language of the people. I then tried to contact our Brothers in Rome to ask them to come to Albania by 14th September (1991). So Bro. André Marie M.C., Bro. Luke M.C. and Bro. Mathew M.C. arrived in Bushat on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 1991 and thus began our second community outside Rome.
All was new. The language, the culture, the country, the people. Whom to turn to for help? We did not know. Most things had to be imported, not only for us but also for the people. Everybody needed everything. We did not know where and how to begin. But here, too, Divine Providence came to our rescue. I made several trips by sea. In the beginning we had to go via Bar, in Yugoslavia and travel through the mountains and enter Albania via Hoti or exit from the country going the other way around. This was because the sea port of Durazzo was still to be opened. By November in 1991 the Durazzo port started functioning, and also Valona.
The Bushat mission
Although we had only promised to meet the spiritual needs of the people, it very soon became apparent that the material needs of the poor country people were such that they simply could not be ignored in Christian charity…and for the time being they had no one else to turn to for help with these needs but ourselves. Thus like many other religious in those early days in Albania, we found ourselves inevitably involved in the distribution of food, clothes and even furniture and building materials.
The Congregation purchased its first van in Rome before Christmas 1991, and on 22 December the van arrived in Bushat, full of clothes and other material for the poor.
The following day an attempt to conduct an orderly distribution among over-excited villagers in a nearby village failed dismally. The van was effectively hijacked, its tyres slashed to prevent it from moving, and its contents were scattered very unsystematically among the villagers. However. The need in many rural areas could not be done as well as giving all the spiritual assistance we could, we became much involved in material distribution in the next few years.
Spiritual assistance was primarily in the form of the sacramental services that our priest could offer in Bushat and in a large number of surrounding villages: particularly the celebration of the Mass and the baptism of infants. There were many villages where we were called on to celebrate the sacraments and assist with catechism, and in all of them we were also concerned to try to identify the poorest people and to help them wherever possible. Of course, the help given, both spiritual and material, was more organized and more regular in Bushat and some of the closer villages.
In 1992 work began on transforming the auditorium of the ex-cultural centre in Bushat into a church. While the work was getting underway, a further very interesting possibility for expansion was being considered. In all of the villages where the Brothers went for the various apostolates, we were asked to help with the re-construction or the re-furnishing of the village churches and we were invited to install a community of Brothers as a permanent presence.
In terms of physical location and the state of the church buildings, Kukel presented the most feasible option for us in this regard, and in many ways it seemed to be ideally suited for a noviciate community. Our priests had been celebrating Mass there regularly on Sundays, but on 10 June 1992 Fr. Sebastian M.C. celebrated our first Mass in a dilapidated presbytery and on 13 June, feast of St. Anthony of Padua, a community of Brothers moved in. On 1 July the first two novices for the Kukel community arrived from Rome, followed by another on 12 July and a fourth on 9 August. The formation of the novices went hand-in-hand with the re-construction of the house for quite a few months: it was quite a challenge!
On 3 September of the same year, we had a final profession to celebrate in Bushat. The Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency Msgr. Ivan Dias, came to celebrate a Mass at which our Canadian Brother André Marie, already a priest, made his final vows. The Mass was celebrated in the open air in the forecourt of the church as building works were still in full swing. This was certainly the first time since the closure of the churches in the late 1960’s that anyone had made public vows for life of poverty, chastity and obedience in Albania (as well, of course, in our case, of a fourth vow of whole-hearted free Service to the poorest of the poor).
The Church blessing
The Nuncio agreed to come back again early in the New Year to consecrate the Church on its completion. This he did on Wednesday 13 January 1993 in a building that was packed from wall to wall, with large crowds flowing out into the street. Archbishop Ivan Dias told us that this also was a first: no other new church had been consecrated in Albania since the fall of the communist regime. However, he said that this Church belonged to the Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative of Mother Teresa of Kolkata and that the Church could be used for the people of Bushat until they build their own parish church.
Blessed John Paul II’s visit to Albania
A few months later, on Sunday 25 April 1993, the Church was yet more highly privileged to receive a flying papal blessing. On his one-day historic visit to Albania, it had been announced that Pope John Paul II would travel by helicopter from Tirana to Shkoder but, for security reasons, the plan was changed at the last moment and he was taken instead by high-speed motorcade…directly past our house and church, imparting his apostolic blessing to them and to the waving and cheering crowds as he passed.
It was an unforgettable day, and even more so because we had the opportunity to meet and talk with Mother Teresa M.C. in Shkoder that day, as she had come specially for the Holy Father’s visit. Her schedule was too full to permit her to visit us on that occasion, but she promised to return as soon as she could.
Late in the summer of that same year she kept her word and visited both of our houses on 18 August, which happened to be the feast of the parochial patron of our Mother-house in Rome, St. Agapitus (Agapito). The crowd that came to greet her for a short encounter in front of the church in Bushat was again enormous, but there were only a handful of helpers and co-workers, as well as the House Superior to meet her in Kukel as her visit there was unscheduled, but she herself had insisted on seeing the “Church under the mountain”. Restoration of the house and church was still underway there, and the church would not finally be completed until Christmas 1993. Meanwhile the group of novices increased to six.
As well as the Brothers’ own formation, a variety of works continued from both houses. Sacramental services were rendered to many villages, including regular distribution of Holy Communion to the sick and aged. Preparation for the sacraments and catechetical programmes were planned, run in conjunction with the catechetical centre in the Don Bosco centre, Shkoder, involving Brothers to the limit, and often even beyond the limit, of their capacities! A regular ministry, including sacramental, pastoral, catechetical and material aspects was conducted in Albania’s largest prison, which is situated close to the sea south of Lezhe.
Distribution of food, clothes and other necessary materials to the really needy continued, often with the help of Caritas Tirana and the Franciscan Convent in Shkoder. Much of door-to-door house-visiting was also done by the Brothers in search of the poorest of the poor, without undue regard for who was Catholic and who was Muslim, but striving always to seek and serve Jesus in all; though of course the Catholics were also encouraged to fulfil their religious obligations and to practice family devotions in their own homes, while the Muslims were also encouraged to pray and to open their hearts to God in all sincerity.
A much needed drainage system was installed for the blocks of flats in Bushat, a well was sunk in the grounds of the hospital and later the hospital itself was entirely re-equipped with modern maternity facilities by some enterprising benefactors. A pharmacy was run from the Church for several years and continued to be assisted by the Society when it was moved to the hospital precincts. First-aid facilities were offered to the people from our houses in Bushat and Kukel at certain periods, depending on the availability of Brothers with medical training.
In Kukel some two kilometres of road were rebuilt and resurfaced; poor families and widows were helped to buy grain or livestock, including milk cows on some occasions. Two villages were assisted in bridge-building programmes, and several others with materials for church-building.
Besides all these local activities, our priests were also often called upon to offer services to the houses of our M.C. Sisters in Shkoder, Puke and, for a short time, in Dukagjin.
By 1994 these works were beginning to settle into a pattern of some regularity, though there were never enough Brothers to do as much as we wanted to do, or even as much, sometimes, as seemed really necessary to do; besides this we had to cope, like everyone else, with many unplanned interruptions and surprises, some of them even of a violent nature.
Cardinal Ivan Dias’s visit
Our manpower did not increase as much as we would have liked partly because, in the interest of the apostolate and future growth, a new house in India was also in the process of foundation during these years. However there seemed to be clear signs that God wanted our presence in both places: one of these signs, by way of confirmation, was that the same day that Blessed Teresa M.C. visited the house in Gurgaon, near New Delhi, for its blessing and inauguration on 18 November 1995, the Brothers in Bushat were invited to attend Mass in Shkoder Cathedral celebrated by Cardinal Archbishop of Mumbai, Ivan Dias, who was paying a one-day visit to Shkoder as a guest of the Apostolic Nuncio. India and Albania came together in both places on that day.
We took part every year in the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Good Counsel, under the ruins of Rosafa Castle: all who were able to would go on foot from Bushat and even from Kukel. We were happy to take part in many of the diocesan celebrations in Shkoder Cathedral, and to feel part of the diocesan family.
It so happened that it was in the week that Mother Teresa M.C. handed over the leadership of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters in Kolkata on Thursday 13 March 1997 that the army in Albania also collapsed. All who remained in the country must have memories of what a strange time it was. We kept both houses open, and while Kukel remained relatively unaffected, there was one night in particular in Bushat when we wondered whether we and the Church would survive intact to see the following morning: we probably would not have done so but for the Parish Council which had not only appointed four-arm-guards to patrol the Church on foot all night, but had also commandeered a tank to cover the entrances to the village from a position some fifty metres down the road from the Church!
From that time on our material distribution work became very greatly reduced due to the dangers it involved – not so much for ourselves as for the beneficiaries of the goods – and it was only started again, in a very controlled fashion, when some 50 refugee families from Kosovo were billeted amongst the families in Bushat for several months. These were all helped according to a clearly laid-out aid programme.
Meanwhile the heart of the Church’s life continues to beat in Bushat to the rhythm of prayer, contemplation, the Divine office, the Eucharistic sacrifice and all the help that we can render, according to our own Charism and Constitutions, to the local people, both materially and spiritually, keeping ever in mind the supreme norm and goal of the Church’s mission at both the universal and the local level: “the salvation of souls”.
Recalling a few unforgettable experiences
I travelled across Italy since we had several interested people who promised to give us a helping hand. I remember one huge truck of 80 quintals of paint we arranged from Trieste to Durazzo, twenty-four hours on the sea. Many trips were made from Ancona to Durazzo. But most of the trips were made from Rome-Bari-Durazzo. Several times our vehicle broke down on the way because of over weight.
Most of these break-downs took place after covering a distance of about 300 or more kilometres. Sometimes we had to bring the loaded van all the way back to Rome as some of the repairs were major ones and cost us a fortune. Many times we had to unload the whole vehicle again to take it to the mechanic. We can write volumes on such adventurous enterprises our Brothers went through on Rome/Bari road. God gave us the strength, the means, the energy and the personel. Sometimes we have been so foolish to overload our vehicles and the consequences were disastrous, in spite of our many prayers and sacrifices.
All the building materials for Bushat and Kukel we bought from Italy, including two big trucks full of floor tiles, which were donated by the factory in Sassuolo, Modena. Our thanks go to so many Italian benefactors whom God inspired and sent to us for our poor people in Albania.
Besides the building materials we received regular truck loads of food stuff, clothes of all kinds and all measures for men, women and children from Ireland and other countries. Our house became a pharmacy as we brought big quantity of medicines of all kinds. A young Albanian lady doctor, Dr. Odeta Hasaj from Shkoder, who worked in the maternity clinic near by, came with her many nurses not only to arrange but also to dispense the medicines to the sick ones in and around the area.
While this was going on, the Brothers took food stuff and clothes in the horse carts to the various villages close by and afar to distribute to the really needy ones. It was not that easy, so often ending up in quarrels and big fights. Once I remember going with our newly purchased van loaded with all sorts of food stuff and clothes in one of the villages; the brand new tyres were cut with a knife and we had no way of getting the spare tyres. Somehow we managed to reach back to Bari, but, as it was on the night of the New Year, we had to stay in the van the whole night, shivering in the cold. Every now and then we would start the engine to get some hot air. Such long and unforgettable nights at the port were not rare ones. We often spent the entire night at the port in freezing cold and very windy circumstances. The ferry could not start because of the storm at sea.
Bethel: the house of God – Home for the mentally and physically challenged boys and men.
It was on Thursday 14 October, 1999, that we purchased a piece of land in Bushat, just across the street – 1265 sq. m, with the intention of building a very modest house for the homeless handicapped and disabled persons. Although the first stone was blessed on Monday 18 March, 2002, by his Excellency Msgr. Oscar Rizzato in Rome, at our Mother house and Generalate, the project was not ready for execution until 10 May 2005.
The land was purchased, and the project was ready for execution, but we were still lacking the necessary funds and the proper people to execute the project. For one reason or another, the various funding agencies were turned down, as well as the contractors who studied the project. However, we finally decided to start the foundational work and signed the contract on 27 January, 2003, but faced so many unexpected and very serious problems, which appeared to be very difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. To mention a few:
1) As soon as the foundational digging began, a torrent of water started. It became a very real problem, and it took a very long time to find the qualified persons to give us proper advice and to find proper material. The work was not only doubled but very complicated. This also meant spending a lot more money than the initial estimate.
2) Although the three architects and the engineer from Rome came to Bushat three times to see the site and to measure the land before completing the project, there were many serious defects in their drawings. Overlooking the less important problems, which were many, such as missing pillars, doors and windows and the like, the main one was the difference in the volume of the whole structure. According to the original plan and the amount of space, the layout was supposed to be for 650 sq. m. But the actual plan of the building could not be fitted in the land we had purchased, as the project was 1/3 more (i.e. 300 sq. m. more), and we had to purchase more land to execute the actual project. This also explains the actual size of the finished building. It was not 650 sq. m. any more as we originally planned, but 950 sq. m. without the present attic, which was also added to the original plan.
3) As you can see, it was not a simple project to execute. Even the engineers and architects of Albania took time to study the project and to understand it well, including the many defects before its execution.
4) The work was stopped at different times, sometimes for shorter terms, but sometimes for long periods of time due to bad weather or problems with the contractors.
5) More than one contractor.
6) Lack of funds.
7) Lack of technically qualified personnel to direct the work.
The journey has been long and tedious, but not without its fruits. The good Lord has been with us, even when we walked through fire and flood. The Lord did not permit the fire to burn us, nor the water to drown us. It is this house we blessed, inaugurated and thanked God for and asked him for continued blessing on Thursday 20th April 2006 at 4.00 p.m.
The house is blessed so that all people of good will may feel at home, especially the poorest of the poor, and in particular the handicapped boys and men. Secondly, our Metropolitan Archbishop, together with the priest concelebrants, religious and lay people implored God’s blessing on everyone so that each one of us may become God’s blessing to one another and all we live with and work for. Thirdly, this house was blessed that it may be a real house of the Lord not only in name, but also in fact, and that our work with the handicapped, crippled and disabled persons may become a real work of God. Let us never forget the fact that the works of God are works of love, and the works of love are works of peace and unity, and together we may try to do something beautiful for God, as our beloved and Blessed Mother Teresa used to say: “What you are doing, I cannot do, what I do you cannot do, but together we are doing something beautiful for God.” We all know that only if we are united we can do this. “United we stand, divided we fall.” The more united we are, the more efficient and effective God’s work which will be carried out by all.
The actual situation of Bethel
The total number of mentally and physically challenged boys and men amount to twenty-three (23) coming from various parts of the country of Albania. The majority of the boys are very highly mentally disabled, suffering also from epilepsy and other related sickness. The older men are very much physically handicapped and confined to beds. They are totally unable to do anything on their own. Some of them are paying the price for trying to practice their faith during the severe atheistic-communist regime.
It is a very demanding apostolate for our Brothers who are being helped by ten paid workers and some of the Lay Missionaries of Charity, both from Bushat and Shkoder, and members of the Legion of Mary group of Bushat. They come periodically to serve at meals as many of the boys and men are unable to eat their meals on their own. At times some volunteers and LMCs have come from abroad, mainly from Italy, to give a helping hand to the Brothers.
We depend entirely on Divine providence for all our needs. Among all the houses of the Brothers, the house in Albania is the highest in the monthly expenditures.
Celebration of the national feast in Bushat, Shkoder, Albania
Since Bl. Teresa M.C. was Albanian by blood, she is a national hero for them and honoured as such every year on 19th October since her beatification in 2003. It is a national holiday in Albania. The international Airport in the capital city of Albania is named after her. Besides there are several schools and parish churches, a cathedral and hospital which bear her name in the various parts of the country.
From Sunday 9th October to Wednesday 19th October the Brothers of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative of Bushat, Albania, organized a special programme, namely a novena of perpetual Eucharistic adoration starting from 9th to 17th October 2011. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed day and night and adoration continued. Each evening an hour was dedicated for the sick people, including our boys and men from Bethel, to pray for their physical and spiritual cure and total liberation of themselves in the Holy Spirit. Each of the participants was blessed with the Blessed Sacrament and whoever received the blessings of the Lord in the Eucharist felt peaceful, consoled, joyful and grateful.
Symposium on Blessed Teresa
On Tuesday 18th October 2011 there was a symposium – the main speakers were Rt. Rev. Angelo Massafra, the archbishop of Shkoder, Msgr. Lush Gjergji, the Vicar General for the diocese of Kosovo, Rev. Don Arian Arra, the parish priest of Bushat and Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C., the Superior General of the Missionaries of charity Contemplative.
Several men and women religious, priests and lay people took active part in it. The person of Bl. Teresa of Kolkata, her family background, her vocation, life and mission, particularly her “call within a call” by Jesus to dedicate her life totally to the service of the poorest of the poor, irrespective of caste, colour, religion or nationality were brought out by the speakers. All became really enthusiastic and wanted to hear more about her, especially about her mystical experiences, locutions and visions.
The solemn Thanksgiving celebration of the Eucharist
On Wednesday 19th October 2011, there was the solemn celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy in our Church, presided over by Rt. Rev. Angelo Massafra. Several priests concelebrated with the Archbishop. Bl. Teresa always tried to light a candle rather than to curse the darkness. She became the light of Christ for so many who, in her own words “were living in the dark world of selfishness, despair and hatred”. She not only prayed every day to the Lord to make her an instrument of his peace but worked hard to bring peace and joy.
With all her strength she did ordinary things with extraordinary love, simple things with great love. She did not judge people according to their status in life, but considered each human being as the child of God, no matter how miserably crippled, handicapped or cracked he or she was; for her the person was Jesus in disguise: Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor”. Therefore whatever we do to the least of our brethren we do it to Jesus. “You did it to me” (Mt 25: 40), Jesus said. She took Jesus’ words very seriously and literally.
The cultural programme
As the Eucharistic celebration was over, we were led to the front yard of Bethel, our home for the disabled boys and men where for about an hour and a half a cultural program was held. It was well presented by a group of young people from the nearby village of Barbalush. Everybody enjoyed the program. Our thanks go to all the organizers.
By now it was time for lunch. In all the program of the day the Archbishop, the mayor of Bushat, Mr. Zef Hilaj, and several other people took very active part. All felt extremely happy and praised and thanked God and one another, especially our Brothers in Bushat.
During lunch again words of welcome and gratitude were expressed. One young girl gave a poetic presentation of Bl. Teresa of Kolkata’s short biography.
Don Arian Arra, our parish priest, deserves our thanks for providing most of the “materia prima” for the meal. Each one of us had his/her role to play: “Each one is like a drop in the ocean”, Bl. Teresa M.C. used to say, “but if that drop is not there, the ocean will be missing that drop, and that is what we should do and are trying to do in the house of God (Bethel), in Bushat, and every single person of good will is invited to join in the work of God in Bushat and elsewhere!.
Amidst God’s numberless stars let us light our own little lamps. Love and prayers.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.
(Co-founder and Superior General)