Sometimes the question of what your vocation is – in theory at least – is quickly answered. Mother Teresa put it like this: “As to the origin of it all, it was quite simple: the Good Lord called, and I said yes.” Later, however, this great saint from the little country of Albania struggled with many questions, as she recorded in her private diary. And in the years after her first initial “yes” to God (“Since childhood, the Heart of Jesus was my great love”, she wrote) – she needed time to understand clearly her path with God.
For all of us, our vocation is quite simply a gift, which needs to be discovered and lived out in our lives. The sooner we begin with this, the better. For the seminarians in Shkoder, Albania, great care is taken to ensure that they are able to reaffirm maturely the youthful “yes” they uttered six years earlier at the beginning of their studies. These young men from Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo must be able to remain true to their “first great love” for life. It is not unknown – after the major retreat in which the young theology students give special consideration to the question of the priesthood and seek to discern their own vocation, in intensive prayer – for a seminarian to leave the seminary, still firm in his faith, but called to serve God in other ways.
The 16 seminarians in the current academic year are all looking forward to their pastoral and sacramental duties. This is by no means something to be taken for granted in Albania. Many of the 350,000 or so Catholics in the country (roughly 10% of the population) can still remember the era of the atheist dictatorship under the communists, when every form of religious expression, to say nothing of action, was banned under the constitution and cruelly persecuted. Even before the communists and the successive occupations by foreign powers, this small and grindingly poor country had lived for half a millennium beneath the harsh yoke of Ottoman rule. Only during the past few decades has it once again been possible to study theology and train for the priesthood – in itself a form of resurrection for the martyred Church in Albania.
Last year the seminary celebrated the 20th anniversary of its reopening, with the ordination of two deacons. ACN is supporting the seminary with €900 per seminarian per year. They are undemanding and willing to serve. Or, as Mother Teresa herself put it, “I am willing to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes, all with a big smile”.