What’s it like to live and pray in an officially atheist state? CNS has a fascinating interview with Maria Dhimitri, who lived that way in Albania:
“They said God didn’t exist. I couldn’t come to church or pray or speak of God at all,” she said of the communist regime that came to power in her country soon after World War II. The regime made worshipping increasingly difficult and finally imposed a ban on religion in the country in 1967, making Albania the first and only constitutionally atheist state.
Dhimitri was teaching piano at one of the country’s top conservatories for music in the capital, Tirana, and was married with two small children when the ban went into effect.
“All the priests were arrested and killed, or put in jail,” she said of its rapid and violent enforcement by government officials, who immediately closed of every church and mosque in the country.
Having been raised by a “staunchly Catholic family” from the traditionally Catholic stronghold of Shkoder, Dhimitri said “to stop praying … never crossed my mind.”
She said she knew that to show any sign of faith in public would endanger not just her, but the lives of her entire family, so she resorted to praying in the secrecy of the family’s Tirana apartment, with utmost care and sometimes “under the covers.”
“As they say, walls have ears, and there were (state) spies everywhere,” said Dhimitri, who said her children understood instinctively not to speak of their Catholic faith.
“We prayed at home, in private, out of sight of the neighbors,” said Dhimitri, adding that “many other Catholics and Orthodox prayed secretly as well … and many Muslims, too.”
“On Christmas or Easter we might cook a chicken, or have a small cake,” she said of the “hidden celebrations” during the years of the ban.