Sister Marije’s shoe against the Regime

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We often have the notion that we can change our society only through estreme actions. This very same notion springs from the freedom we enjoy. Freedom in being able to dispose of our resources as we think best. And yet, there are historic moments, places and even days when this is not feasible. Circumstances in which courage manifested through seemingly minor gestures aimed at breaking the yoke of hatred. The story of sister Marije Kaleta could sum up this careful consideration.

Try imagining a woman, who was forced to hide away and even strip herself of her veil in order to survive under the Communist regime, which for 50 years, has kept Albania under its foot. A cruel dictatorship which in its crazy attempt, has endeavoured to homologate thoughts, tried to crush every conscience, by persecuting, torturing and killing thousands of Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims. Just try imagining it as she walks through the rubble of the churches and bell towers, that have been destroyed as a tribute to the blind ideology of state atheism that so many, too many, countries in Eastern Europe have known for so long. Finally, try imagining how she stops, and reads or listens to the fierce motto: “Every fascist that wears a clerical suit must be shot dead with a bullet in the head and not face trial”.

What does it mean, to be steadfast in Faith, when Faith itself is considered a crime to be punished with death? This question, which deems an answer lies in our society based on freedom of conscience- it may sound difficult, if not impossible. For sister Marije (who today at 85 still enjoys an extraordinary lucidity of mind) meant going on despite all. “When I think back”, she said to the Pope on Sunday ,“I find it incredible how we managed to endure such terrible suffering, but I know that the Lord has given us strength, patience and hope.”

Indeed hope. The same retained in her heart when a young mother who called and approached her running one day, and had asked her to baptize the baby-girl she held in her arms. The woman was the wife of a Communist. No use beating about the bush in a country where half the population coopperated closely with the Sigurimi, the Albanian secret police, the risk that it was a trap, really existed. Marije told her, she didn’t know where to draw water for the sacrament. The mother, however, insisted. That moment was a true miracle. Marije looked at the woman and without realising how, she perceived the goodness in her intentions. “Seeing her faith, I took off my shoes, since they were plastic, and with that I took water from a canal and baptised the baby-girl”.
The very image of a nun on the run from the horrors, who welcomes the Christian life of a newborn, using a shoe leaves one speechless. It narrates the drama in those years, the climate of terror experienced by Believers and the martyrdom of thousands of people, who were often handed over to the executioner by friends or relatives. But at the same time, it shows us values like courage, confidence in our neighbor, and that solidarity which is borne from the hope nested in a better world tomorrow.

As the Pope has said, Albania today has changed and is becoming, a model of peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups and religions. It is of no coincidence that it has been chosen as the first European nation to be visited by Pope Francis since the beginning of his ministry. The story of sister Marije, and the entire Albanian people, are a slap in the face to those who continue killing just for the sake of subtle personal interests. And the message to all those who suffer on earth is: intolerance and repression can be defeated, by just entrusting in the immense power of love and faith.

Translation provided by Marina Stronati