World Council of Churches Office of Communication|
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
"OFFERING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR"
The arrival in Albania of 450,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees has been putting incredible strains on a country already suffering from 70% unemployment, widespread poverty and a lack of infrastructure. Yet the Albanians have welcomed the refugees into their country and, often, into their homes.
In late March, when refugees began to arrive by the thousands every day, the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania immediately responded to the emergency through its office on social, development and emergency relief, Diaconia Agapes. Diaconia Agapes was founded in 1992 to serve the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized people in Albania. Over the years, it has developed a full range of assistance programmes, including agricultural programmes, children’s nursery schools, teachers’ training, health clinics, women's rural health programmes, national youth programmes, and a radio station, among others.
In light of the emergency, Diaconia Agapes, with the support of churches around the world mobilized by Action for Churches Together (ACT), began to build and manage refugee camps and to provide assistance to families hosting refugees. It has been a beautiful model of interreligious collaboration. With support from Protestant and Orthodox churches and concrete assistance from Polish Catholics, the church is responding to the needs of suffering Muslim refugees.
Diaconia Agapes/ACT achievements to date have been impressive. More than 220 metric tons of ready-to-eat food has been distributed to refugees throughout the country.
The Orthodox Church of Albania has had more than its share of difficulties over the past 10 years. After 50 years of communist rule and 23 of intense religious persecution, the church has had to rebuild its leadership, institutions and buildings. It has made great progress, but much remains to be done. As His Beatitude, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania explained, "When the refugees began to arrive, we could have said that ‘We are a poor church’, and stood in the corner." Instead, the church mobilized a large-scale humanitarian response to the emergency.
While Diaconia Agapes is playing a leading role in mobilizing humanitarian assistance, the response to the refugees is a response by the church as a whole. Individual church members throughout the country have felt called to reach out to the refugees. Church women’s groups are packaging food and hygiene parcels and delivering them to refugees living with host families. Church members are visiting refugees in the hospitals and delivering baby supplies to refugee mothers who have recently given birth. In Tirana, the two maternity hospitals call the church daily, requesting aid for newborns.
One of the teachers at the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy told me how his wife had visited a refugee woman with a newborn baby in the hospital and had made friends with her. When she was released from the hospital, she was able to find her husband and moved into a refugee camp. But the baby became sick as a result of conditions in the camp. "We invited them to live with us," he said "and for two months, this refugee family has shared our home."
Every week, Theological Academy students and members of Orthodox youth groups have been visiting the refugees in camps and in their host families, delivering material assistance. They are bringing food and laundry soap, toys and soccer balls. Most of all, they are bringing hope and love to people who have suffered greatly. When a peace agreement is signed and the refugees return home, the church is resolved to continue to sustain them through that phase as well.
In a region of the world marked by ethnic division and conflict, Christians are reaching out to Muslim refugees every day through large-scale relief operations, and through individual acts of Christian compassion. By doing so, the church serves as a tangible witness to a vision in which all of God’s children live in peace and harmony.
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.