ALBANIA has by tradition three main religious cornmunities the Moslem, the Greek Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic.
Since the Communist partisans took over the country in 1944, all three communities have suffered. Churches and monasteries have been closed and priests have been executed or imprisoned.
Albania is still the most rigidly Communist country in Eastern Europe, but from the fragments of evidence I found during visits to most of the larger towns of Albania, it is obvious that all three have survived.
Mosques all over Albania are still open on Fridays, and the Moslem priests still call from the minarets. Greek Orthodox churches in the south still have regular weekday and Sunday services, and a few young men are still becoming Orthodox priests.
The centre of the Catholic Church in Albania is Shkoddr, a lakeside town in the North with a poptilation of just over 45,000.
The first church I eaund there was behind a high gate, and the gate was locked. But eventually I found that at least three ehurehe,, in Shkoder were still open the cathedral. the Franciscan church.
By PETER UDELL
and the, first church I had seen. This, like the Franciscan church, was unlocked only for services.
The outsides of all three were in a bad state of repair. Much of the brown paint had peeled from the doors of the Franciscan church, and there were scribbles in chalk on the hare wood. A political slogan had been painted by the main doors of thc cathedral,
But inside, all three were well kept and clean and the interior of the cathedral was being repainted.
Both days I was in Shkoder were weekdays, yet in these three churches there were at least seven services each morning and at least two services each evening.
I went to as many of these as I could, to try to find out how many people were still openly Catholic in this violently Communist State.
The first of the morning Masses was at 5 a.m. in the cathedral. and was attended by 15 men and 20 women. By 6.30 a.m. on this one morning I had been to five Masses and had counted a total of a hundred and sixty five people.
The largest number was ai 6 a m at the cathedral, with ten men and thirty flee women, and the smallest was at 6.30 a.m. at the Franciscan church, with six men and seventeen women.
The previous evening I had been to two services, and in all of the ceremonies I attended I noticed that the men and the women sat on different sides of the church.
Some of the men Sat on the floor, hunched up against a wall. Between Masses some of the women sat motionless, waiting for the next service to begin. Sonic of the people were in church only for a few minutes, and left as silently as they had come.
A few of the mothers brought their children with them and one or two children under ten came on their own. At one of the Masses I saw two girls in their late teens, both wearing brightly coloured dresses and high-heeled shoes.
How far these people were free to go to church, and how far their priests were free to visit them, I could not discover. But members of all three religious communities still worship in numbers far greater than many observers have believed possible.
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