Albanian Church condemns political campaigning in churches as insult to religious sentiments

Tirana, Albania, June 26, 2019

Mayor of Tepelena Termet Peci (centre) addressing supporters in the Church of St Nicolas in the village of Lekel. Photo: Termet Peci Facebook Mayor of Tepelena Termet Peci (centre) addressing supporters in the Church of St Nicolas in the village of Lekel. Photo: Termet Peci Facebook     

The Albanian Orthodox Church issued a statement on Monday condemning the misuse of Orthodox churches for political electioneering.

“In recent days, in two cases, in the pre-election campaign, there has been an unacceptable use of ecclesiastical premises for political purposes,” the statement published on the Church’s official website reads.

“The use of the inner church premises for political activities in election campaigns constitutes an insult to community and institutional religious feelings. Each Orthodox church, as the religious object for the Orthodox community, is a holy place of worship and prayer and cannot be used in any case for political purposes,” the statement further reads.

Balkan Insight reports that the two incidents involved Termet Peci, the Mayor of Tepelena, who is running for a third term, who addressed supporters in the nave of the Church of St. Elijah in the village of Lekel, and Majlinda Bufi, the Mayor of Roskovec, who gave an online television interview to a socialist-friendly station inside the Church of St. Nicholas in Roskovec.

His Eminence Metropolitan Nikolla of Apollonia and Fieri also made a statement on Sunday, saying that the use of churches for such purposes was sacrilegious.

The Church’s statement also notes that such actions contradict the Agreement between the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Albania and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania of January 22, 2009, and thus the Church demands that such actions not be repeated and that sacred places be shown the proper respect. Church and state have been officially separate in Albania since it gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, and religious organizations typically refrain from taking sides in political elections.

Permission was not granted, much less sought, by the Church for such activities, though Mayor Bufi insisted that as the Church of St. Nicholas is an historic monument, it belongs to the Ministry of Culture, not the Church.

Political tensions are high in Albania at the moment, as the center-right Democratic Party is accusing the left-wing government of links to organized crime and vote rigging. Thousands of Albanians gathered to protest the ruling government earlier in June.

In a statement read out in all churches in Albania on Sunday June 2, the Church lamented that the path to reconciliation seems to be becoming narrower and narrower and stated that, “Therefore with great concern and humbleness, we pray in all the churches that the God of peace and wisdom encourages all those who carry the responsibility of leading the country to become aware of the importance of the task they are charged with, to find a path for reconciliation and understanding and to provide concrete solutions to the problems for the benefit of our country and our people.”

The Church also recently announced that its Clergy-Laity Conference, scheduled for Monday, has been postponed until the fall due to the “highly charged political climate in Albania.”

The Albanian Church has been forced to constantly defend its holy sites against blasphemy and profanation in recent years, as they have been attacked and looted, and used for photo shoots, jazz concerts, and even Roman Catholic masses.

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