In the past year, the lid on the world’s first officially atheist country has been lifted enough to reveal at once a resilient spirituality and a remarkable ignorance of a Christian heritage that dates from the early church. “We believe in God, but we don’t know what he requires,” said an Albanian woman, whose country lies in the area that was called Illyricum in New Testament times.

Since lifting a 24-year ban on “religious propaganda” last May (the constitutional ban on religion itself remains), remnants of faith have resurfaced in Albania. Though short of the government’s promises to reopen all places of worship—over 2,000 religious buildings were destroyed or confiscated in 1967—at least two Roman Catholic congregations celebrated Mass at Christmas and Easter, notably in pre-Vatican II-style Latin, the only liturgy known to the church’s recognized leader, Fr. Simon Jubani, who had been imprisoned for 23 years.

Promise Of Freedom

The Maryland-size country remains politically unstable following March elections in which Communists lost their monopoly but maintained 60 percent of the seats in Parliament. But for religious believers, a draft constitution, issued last December 31, offers hope. It proposes to replace the state’s nonrecognition of religion with a guarantee of “freedom of religious faith” and the right of Albanian believers to “preach their religion.”

Before the Italian occupation of 1939 and subsequent Communist takeover, Albania’s 1 million people were estimated to be 70 percent Muslim, 20 percent Orthodox, and 10 percent Roman Catholic.

Little is known of the aftermath of an evangelical movement that grew to include ...

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