FACE TO FACE WITH A MARTYR CHURCH
Monsignor Tejado on Beginning Priestly Ministry in Albania
ROME, SEPT. 6, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Albania suffered massive and violent persecution under the communist dictator Enver Hoxa. Yet, communism — unlike secularism — was unable to take God out of people’s hearts, says a Vatican aide who began his priestly ministry in Albania.
Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, remembers his first priestly assignment in Albania as the best time of his life.
He spoke with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, about what a priest should learn from ministering to those who’ve risked their lives for the faith.
Q: You came to Albania just after the death of Enver Hoxa. What was your experience at that time?
Monsignor Tejado: I came to Albania to work there and to help and provide help with the first stages of establishing the Church just after the fall of communism. I knew nothing about Albania because Spain had few relations with the Balkans. My experience was wonderful — difficult but wonderful. I understood that the Lord had called me to go to Albania. Albania is very poor and I found the people helpful; many times in communist countries the people are against the faith, but not in Albania. People respected my position as a priest. It was the beginning of the Church. The Pope arrived there in 1994 and he consecrated the first bishops. It was a very good experience but also difficult because the Church was persecuted, and so to begin again, to begin speaking about Jesus, to speak about the Lord and to organize the whole Church.
Q: What wonders did you see when you came to Albania?
Monsignor Tejado: I saw a population and a Church that suffered a lot during the communist times but the persecution did not destroy something in their hearts. That something was about heaven. They say that during the communist era heaven was closed.
Q: The country was totally atheistic. How is it that there were still seeds of faith?
Monsignor Tejado: Communism could not destroy hope in the people. In our countries, secularization has destroyed this hope in our hearts. In these countries under communism, the sense of God remained. You can speak about God with these people, in a way in which you cannot in our secularized societies, because people find neither God nor their faith that important or interesting. The people who were under communist regimes are able to discuss and are open, with their hearts, about God.
Q: Was there a severe persecution of Albanian Catholics?
Monsignor Tejado: Yes, the Church in Albani is a martyr Church. They remained in union with St. Peter, with the Pope and it was very important to them. Enver Hoxa asked the Catholic Church in Albania to become a national church like in China, but the bishops and priests refused: “We shall remain in union with Peter, with the Pope” and because of this, they were persecuted and had a terrible situation.
Q: Did these witnesses affect your vocation as a priest?
Monsignor Tejado: Yes! When you speak to the persecuted, something remains with you. You come face to face with a person who has risked his life for the Lord; this is very important for a priest — to risk your life for the Lord and for the Church.
Q: What risks have you taken for the Lord?
Monsignor Tejado: Each day as a priest I’m called to risk my life for the Lord; to do his will. It is a spiritual experience. If you meet a person who has taken the risk not just for a day but for life, for the Lord, you ask yourself why you cannot do the same and offer your life completely for the Lord. This is very important for a priest — not just for a priest but also for every Christian.
Q: Have you left a part of yourself in Albania?
Monsignor Tejado: Half of my heart. I was there for nine years. It was my first assignment as a priest and being my first destination, I remember it very fondly. It was a very nice period of my life — the best, I think, really, and also because of the difficulties, the crosses, that the Lord permitted in my life. It made me humble and to be humble, you know …
Q: Mother Teresa comes from Albania. How important is she for the Catholic Church there?
Monsignor Tejado: Mother Teresa is a very important figure for all of us. She was born in Skopje, the Albanian part of Macedonia. For the Albanians, she is very special because after the fall of communism, Albanians were losing hope. Mother Teresa’s message, “Nothing is impossible for God,” is a message that I take from here, and it is also a message for all people. If we have these kinds of models for our lives then nothing is impossible for us if we are with the Lord. The visit of the Pope and Mother Teresa was, as Albanians say, like heaven opening once more. The communist era closed heaven to the people; Mother Teresa and the Pope opened heaven again.
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.