Fly with Two Wings

As the student movement gained speed in Tirana, the Catholics in Shkoder again took the stage. On November 4, 1990, a few thousand people gathered at the Catholic cemetery in town. Eager to hold mass, a group of young men ran to the home of Simon Jubani, a priest who had recently been released after 26 years in jail for “preservation of literature with a religious content.” Jubani was secretly baptizing a baby at the time but he gladly obliged. The Sigurimi watched from a distance but did not intervene. “It was incredible for me, after the years of repression,” Jubani later recalled. “All the prayers of our Catholic people had been answered.”[i]

Across town, Catholics dug up crosses and rosaries they had hid for years in the earth. On November 11, tens of thousands attended mass at the Shkoder cathedral that the communists had converted into a basketball court, among them Albanians from the Muslim and Orthodox faiths. “It was more important than the day I was arrested or released from prison,” a former political prisoner who attended told me.

Gaining momentum, the Catholics pushed the mufti of Shkoder to open the town’s main mosque. The mufti hesitated so the Catholics demanded he open the mosque or they would dynamite his house. The mufti complied and the Catholics helped the Muslims remove the water and mud that had accumulated in the mosque over years of neglect. “It was better to fly with two wings,” an employee of the Catholic church told me years later.

[i] Stephen Schwartz, “Albanian Cleric Sees Rebirth of Religion,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 1991.

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