Twenty years after the death of St. Teresa of Calcutta thousands of Christians and Muslims came together to celebrate the consecration of the Roman Catholic Co-cathedral in Pristina.
St. Teresa Cathedral is also the only one in the world dedicated to the Albanian saint. The consecration took place on 5th September, on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa’s canonization. It was not just an inauguration, but also an ecumenical and interreligious event.
The Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid in August 2005 by the now deceased first President of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova. The construction itself began in 2007. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has helped with a total of 1.4 million € towards the construction of the Co-cathedral in different phases of the project (2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016). Bishop Dode Gjergji thanks the Catholic charity: “We embarked upon this project trusting in God’s providence, the strength of our nation and the contributions of our people. We thought the construction would take decades. Aid to the Church in Need has been the greatest support in this project. Thank you for the good cooperation.”
On behalf of ACN’s International President, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the international Spiritual Assistant, Father Martin Barta, said in his speech: “I am deeply pleased that the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need has actively contributed to building this Co-cathedral. St. Teresa of Calcutta, please pray for us all, children of God; pray so that on this land – too long bathed by blood and tears, wounded by violence – this church bearing your name may be a space of pure prayer, encounter, dialogue, and respect.”
Although the Holy See still does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia, Pope Francis appointed 88-year-old Cardinal Ernest Simoni as his special envoy to lead the ceremony. Simoni, an Albanian priest, survived nearly 30 years of torture while in labor camps and was twice sentenced to death under the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.
Bishops of the Albanian and Serbian Orthodox Churches, as well as authorities of various Islamic religious communities, attended the ceremony because, even if the Catholic community is a minority in this predominantly Muslim country, they still enjoy significant respect and authority. Albanian Muslims view Catholics and their priests as the safeguards of Albanian identity and history. The Kosovan political powers endowed the Catholic Church in Kosovo with special recognition when they approved the building of the Cathedral of Mother Teresa in Pristina, the capital.
A few years ago, the former acting Chairman of the Assembly of Kosovo, Jakup Krasniqi, said that the reason behind the political support for the project was the unique role that the Church plays in their culture and national identity. The earliest written documents in the Albanian language – for example, the Baptismal formula and the Scriptures – come from the Catholic Church. This, according to Kraniqi, is the reason why the two faiths – Islam and Christianity – have lived here side by side, something virtually unique to this area of the Balkans.