Albanians Rediscover God, If Not Old-Time Religion

SHKODER, Albania — The Catholic cathedral that communists turned into a basketball arena for two decades is now busier than ever, drawing more than 2,000 people to a single Sunday Mass. An ornate Albanian Orthodox church with three grand, peach-colored domes is readying for Easter celebrations and popular midnight candlelit processions. And a few days ago, the latest of more than 50 mosques in the area opened with fanfare and a call to prayer.

In a country that once officially outlawed God, religion is back — but in a different way than before the long experiment in godlessness. Many Albanians have resumed spiritual practices with a faith strengthened by the years of suppression. At the same time, new practices and beliefs are being planted by a wave of foreign missionaries and money, making this tiny Adriatic country a remarkable example of the globalization of religion.

Albanians “are happy to have religion back,” said the Rev. Zef Pllumi, 83, a Catholic priest who spent 25 years in prison for his beliefs. Many people here welcome the foreign attention, saying the country needed the outside help. But Pllumi sees risks in the outside influence. “Foreigners don’t know our tradition, and many of those who study abroad come back with fundamentalist ideas,” he said.

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