Home' The Southern Cross : March 2017 Contents Page 16 March 2017
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It was 1990 and as churches in Albania
were re-opening, after more than two
decades of strict religious bans, Albanian
Catholics could finally rekindle their faith.
Franceska Matana, alongside other young
Albanians, remembers this time well. It was
the first time she could openly attend Mass
and begin freely living out her Catholic
faith. When socialist Albania was declared
the world’s ‘first atheist state’ in 1967, the
only religion to be accepted for the years
to come was the ‘religion’ of the state.
During this time churches and other
religious places of worship were either
demolished or nationalised. Some priests
were killed while others were imprisoned
or persecuted to the point of martyrdom.
Government officials even made an
effort to distribute forbidden food during
the period of Lent and send people for
compulsory agricultural work during Easter.
For Franceska and her family, this meant
having to hide their faith and practise
“Sometimes my mother would gather us
around and we would pray the rosary in
secret,” said Franceska.
“During Easter, she would make eggs and
colour them but we could only eat them at
Despite the new-found religious freedom
that was sweeping through Albania in
the 1990s, the country also found itself
suffering from corruption and poverty. After
the outbreak of civil war in 1997 and looted
weapons in the possession of many, the
desire to leave was strong and urgent.
“Albania was becoming more and more
dangerous by the day and we felt like our
only option was to leave,” said Franceska.
With her husband and two young children
aged nine and five, she embarked on her
journey to Australia in 2000, with only a
couple of suitcases and a small amount of
money. Speaking only a few simple English
phrases, she wasn’t sure what to expect of
her new country, a hemisphere away from
what she called home.
“I remember arriving in Australia and there
was a woman at the airport smiling at me
and then she puts her hands up and says
‘welcome’. During this moment I thought to
myself that God had brought me here,” she
Although she held Australia in the highest
regard, even ranking it the “best country
in the world”, the process of immigrating
to a new country and adapting to a foreign
culture was difficult for her at first. After
settling into West Croydon, Franceska also
found refuge in the Croydon Park parish
and community, one place where her
limitations in speaking English didn’t seem
“I was lucky to meet other Albanians who
were going through the same things as me
and we all tried to help each other,” she
Franceska soon found herself feeling
at ease, with her children attending St
Margaret Mary’s School and support
coming from teachers, parishioners and
others within the wider community.
“My husband and I both agreed that we
wanted the kids to go to good Catholic
primary schools and high schools,” she
Since coming to Australia, Franceska
has tried to consistently contribute to
the community. She’s volunteered for
organisations like Meals on Wheels,
Vinnies and the Salvation Army, as well as
being actively involved in her parish. For
her, coming into a new country that made
her feel safe, secure and welcome also
demanded something from her – she felt a
deep urge to “give back”.
There were some fears that their homeland
culture or faith would be lost in the
process of immigration yet, for many
Catholic Albanians living in Adelaide, their
religion began to feel supported and,
more recently, strengthened. Notably, the
establishment of the Albanian Catholic
Association of South Australia over a year
and a half ago helped bring the community
closer together and allayed these fears.
“Every few weeks we started doing a Mass
in Albanian at Mater Christi and so many
people started coming and helping and
supporting us,” Franceska said.
The canonisation of Mother Teresa on
September 4 last year was met with much
excitement and enthusiasm from the
whole community. Albanian priest, Father
Elia Matya who travelled to Adelaide to
say afternoon Mass at the packed Mater
Christi Church. The entrance to the church
was decorated with large photographic
displays featuring quotes from the saint.
Mass was followed by an event that
included a folk dance routine, performed
mainly by young children in traditional
dress and a singer who had also been
flown in for the event.
Franceska said Mother Teresa’s
canonisation was a milestone for Catholic
Albanians, who make up a minority (10 per
cent) in her homeland.
“We always held Saint Teresa close to our
hearts...as her quote goes ‘not all of us
can do great things but we can do small
things with great love’,” she said.
Franceska finds refuge in her faith
The canonisation of Mother
Teresa late last year brought
great joy to Adelaide’s small
Albanian Catholic community
which came together to honour
their homeland’s first saint. For
Franceska Matana, the event
was a significant milestone in her
journey from Albania to Australia,
writes Floreta Precaj.
PROUD: Franceska and other Albanian Catholics were heartened by the
canonisation of Mother Teresa last year. She is pictured (right) with her daughter
before leaving Albania and (above) at St Margaret Mary’s Church Croydon.
Please note there is no onsite parking available for this event.
St Patrick’s Day Mass
Friday, March 17, 2017
St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral
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