- Catholicism, Culture, Conversion: The History of the Jesuits in Albania (1841-1946)
The book by Ines A. Murzaku, an associate professor of religious studies at the Graduate School of Theology, Seton Hall University, as well as a lecturer at the [End Page 168] Centro per l'Europa Centro-Orientale e Balcanica of the University of Bologna, is an original and valuable contribution to the knowledge of the Balkans, in particular of the former Roman province of Illyricum. The work fills a significant gap in our understanding of the lands we can daily hear about in the media. The book, which is her doctoral dissertation prepared at Pontificio Istituto Orientale in Rome, is focused on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The contents, however, especially in the introduction, provide a wider view and set a more complex and broader historical and geographical frame for further discussion. According to her mentor, Professor Constantin Simon, S.J., her findings are "in a certain sense the first fruits of learned scholarship issuing forth from a new and free, post-Communist Albania," as well as a great success for the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Her work "represents a water-shed in the history of the institute, founded expressly to aid the suffering Christians of Eastern Europe" (p. 23). It is quite natural then that her treatise was included in the distinguished "Orientalia Christiana Analecta" series published by the Institute.
The work is a fruit of many years' study, above all of primary sources, unpublished and recorded in different writings and languages. They were scattered in different archives around Albania (Archive of the History Institute, Albanian Academy of Sciences) and in Italy, foremost in the archives of the Jesuit communities (the central archives of the Jesuit Order in Rome and in the Archive of the Venetian Province, Gallarate, Varese). An integral part of the thesis are the twenty-nine photographs taken from the Archivum Photographicum Societatis Jesu, which supplement the findings of the treatise.
In the introduction, the author presents the Albanian Catholic Church through the centuries in a professionally faultless, fluent, and pleasant language. She begins with the last period of the Byzantine Empire and the imminent destruction of the Church brought about by intensive Islamization of the Ottoman Empire. The following nine chapters examine the presence and contribution of the Jesuit community to the development of the ecclesiastical, cultural, as well as general social development of the Albanians (the first Albanian football team was founded at the Jesuit college!). We trace the beginning of the Jesuit Albanian mission, their work during their first year in Albania, from May 1841 to July 1842, and the first suppression of the Jesuit mission in the country. Next comes the description of the Jesuits' return to Albania, the second attempt to build the Central Albanian Seminary, a review of the activities of the Pontifical Albanian Seminary (the first institute of higher learning in Albania), and the endeavors for the firm establishment of Saint Francis Xavier High School which was the central educational institution for young people. The final three chapters present some particularly original forms of pastoral presence of the Jesuit community among the Albanians: Jesuit traveling missions, their apostolic and charitable activities, and the Jesuits' endeavors for the promotion of Albanian culture.
A marked feature of the mission was the continuous interference of the (Austro-Hungarian and Italian) government authorities in their work, a disguised [End Page 169] or open Islamization, frequent lack of understanding of the ecclesiastical authorities, inner church tensions, and finally the ruthless communist persecution, which suppressed all the institutions and recalled the time of the martyrs.
Despite smaller defects, mainly linguistic (divergent forms of personal and place names, the use of technical terms, the transcription of German terms) and technical (textual repetition in some places), which, however, do not diminish the integral value of the work, the thesis affirms the basic fact that ecclesiastical history is an important part of Albanian history. Furthermore, the work of the Jesuits needs...