For 25 years, the Jesuits who have been at the Tirana mission have wanted to see the Sacred Heart parish extended. A month and a half ago, work finally began. An interview with the parish priest, Fr Zef Bisha SJ.
“With the support of many friends and partnerships, we are managing to move forward despite the many difficulties,” says the parish priest, Father Zef Bisha SJ, superior of the Albania cluster. The project also includes the construction of a bell tower, which had not been built with the church in 1938. “Many people have welcomed the project of completing the church,” says Fr Zef. “These days we start digging, after completing the piling of the building.”
How many people attend the community?
“The Sacred Heart parish covers more than a quarter of the city of Tirana and was a co-cathedral until 2000. For more than two years now, the capital has exceeded one million inhabitants. The percentage of Catholics is around 20%. At the moment we do not know how many believers there are in our parish. We started a census two years ago, but it was interrupted because of Covid. There is a very strong internal and external immigration caused by the need to find work. However, a good number of Catholics attend church. Every day we celebrate two masses and on Sundays we have four, three in Albanian and one for the Italian community in Tirana. The latter are numerous and many attend our parish. Before Covid, we also used to celebrate Mass in the villages, in people’s homes, taking it in turns to go from one place to another. It should be noted that along with the Catholic community, many people of other religions attend our activities for various needs”.
Which activities also attract non-Catholics?
“Our mission in Tirana is also distinguished by various activities connected with the universities, particularly for socio-political training, in collaboration with Magis Italia and Centro Arrupe in Palermo. These activities are now reduced, but we manage to maintain connections with the universities by still continuing to run training courses”.
Which needs do you perceive?
“One of the main needs is training. As a city that is developing a lot, people wish for many things. To put one’s life in order and be prepared to live in a metropolis like Tirana is very important. It is just as important to have reception areas and spaces for young people, suitable for study and meetings.”
Which works exactly does the extension project envisage? Which additional spaces will be created? What will they be used for?
“The new building will provide additional spaces for our activities, for pastoral and social use. At the moment we only have the interiors of the church, which do not meet pastoral needs. We will have different spaces to carry out pastoral and social activities, meeting places, a conference hall for 130 people, areas that will help to sustain our activities. Two underground floors to be used for the various needs of the church and not only for storage and parking. In addition, as I said, we would also build the bell tower. Our church is central, we are about 700 metres from the main square of Tirana. Our church is also important for the city of Tirana as a place of art, it is very much visited”.
How are you experiencing this particular time between Covid and dreams for the future?
“It is a period of reflection. We are managing to carry out several activities, but with more effort. Many things have been put on hold for the time being and we only have them online for now. However, people are still searching and responding to the proposals we make.”