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Christians in the Muslim World

Kosovo: the reawakening of "dormant" Catholics

Engelbert Zefaj

On 1 May in the church dedicated to Our Lady in Letnice (where Mother Teresa of Kolkata was first called to serve the poor), 32 residents from the village of Karavasari converted to Catholicism, even though they kept their Muslim names, openly expressing a desire to see a church built in their own village.


A few days later the desire to embrace Christianity touched ten residents of the village of Llapushnik, Drenas municipality. However, they rejected the idea of conversion because for them their action was one of changing religion but rather of reawakening after decades in which their Catholic faith lay "dormant", hidden away from the outside world.


Like their fathers and forefathers before them, these Christians never stopped praying the Rosary; they just said in private. But now the time has come for them to openly profess and practice their religion.


"It is the right time to make our religious feelings known," said one of the newly baptised. "We want to show everyone who we are and who we were. Our grandparents used to recite from memory prayers from the Bible, handing them orally in their northern Albanian dialect, and so they came down to us."


"I've had three happy moments in my life," said Sopi, who spent 12 years in prison as a political prisoner. The first one was when I was released; the second one was when Kosovo proclaimed its independence; and the third one was when we publicly declared our religious beliefs and our names were entered in the Church registry. Still we should not make too much of a fuss over our case."


In fact the news about the conversion has led to some hard thinking in the villages, even upset some people. Despite knowing that some families used to be Catholic, some segments of the Muslim population have a hard time accepting their return to Christianity.


There are no real problems, but some people, Sopi said, are afraid to openly admit their true faith because of a deep-seated mindset and its possible consequences; for example, concerning mixed marriages (some Muslims might stop their daughters from marrying the sons of Christians).


Nevertheless, these recent conversions mark an important milestone in the history of Kosovo. Until not long ago many people had imams preside over funerals in spite of the request by their dearly departed for the extreme unction.


What is more, these first conversions might just be the start of a trend. Tens of peopleeven hundreds according to somemight convert, despite fears about the reaction in the Muslim community.


Sopi hopes that a church will be built soon. For him there is a need for a place where young people who are so inclined can learn about the real meaning of the Christian faith.


Meanwhile many of the children of converted families are openly wearing the cross, taking it off only when they go to school.