Monday, November 24, 2008

Revival of Catholicism in Kosovo?

Crucifix in Roman Catholic Church
Village of Kravoserija
Southern Part of Kosovo
September 8, 2008

We seem to be living in a time of large ideological transformations, including the shifting of religious beliefs. In much of Europe, one notices the spread of Islam, mostly due to an influx of Muslim immigrants but also to the tendency of these immigrant communities to have large families.

Conversions also occur, as some native Europeans also turn to Islam.

The picture, however, is more complex, for quiet conversions from Islam to Christianity are also occurring. An interesting development in Kosovo that illustrates an unusual case of a potentially large-scale movement from Islam to Catholicism among Albanian Kosovars has been reported by Fatos Bytyci in an article, "Out of hiding, some Kosovars embrace Christianity" (Reuters, September 28, 2008):
The majority of ethnic Albanians were forcibly converted to Islam, mostly through the imposition of high taxes on Catholics, when the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans.

For centuries, many remembered their Christian roots and lived as what they call "Catholics in hiding". Some, nearly a century after the Ottomans left the Balkans, now see the chance to reveal their true beliefs.
I recall reading over ten years ago about Islam in the Balkans, and a point made by the writer was that many Christians there living under Ottoman rule pretended to convert to avoid the high taxes. They used two names, a Muslim one for the Ottoman rulers and a Christian one among Christians.

Over time, I suspect that religious beliefs would tend to conform to the religious ideology of those holding power, with Balkan crypto-Christians gradually becoming Islamicized.

The case of Albanians might be even more complex, however, for I recall reading in yet another article that in Albanian families, one member would 'convert' to Islam to protect the family property, but the rest would remain Christian. The Bytyci article would appear to confirm this:
In staunchly Catholic families, often in villages with a strong social network, men converted publicly but continued to practice Christianity at home. Women and daughters often kept the faith, meaning it was transmitted to children.
I don't know the historical scholarship on these points, for I read these things in news reports -- albeit in such publications as The Guardian and The International Herald Tribune -- but this Bytyci article would tend to confirm what I've previously read, especially given statements by Kosovars themselves:
"We have been living a dual life. In our homes we were Catholics but in public we were good Muslims," said Ismet Sopi. "We don't call this converting. It is the continuity of the family's belief."
Consequently, one finds Catholic churches being constructed and Catholic believers emerging, as with the "hundreds of Kosovar Albanians gather[ing] on Sundays to attend religious services in a still unfinished red-brick church in the Kosovo town of Klina," which Bytyci claims is "part of a revival of Catholicism in the newly independent Balkan state."

But we might need to take Bytyci's report with a grain of salt:
Inhabitants of Kravoserija in the south of the country have had their own church since 2005, with the help of the Kosovo Catholic Church. Beke Bytyci is one of five villagers who has the keys to it, since chancellor Zefi only comes to celebrate mass every few weeks.

Opening the wooden door, he crossed himself: "I will be baptized next week," he said.

More than half the 120 village families attend the ceremonies, and the small church is always full.

"My dad made a mistake in not raising me as a Christian," said Ferat Bytyci, a 35-year-old merchant in the village and a relative of Beke. "Now things have changed and I don't make the same mistake."
I note that Fatos Bytyci shares the same surname as Beke and Ferat. Perhaps "Bytyci" is a common name, but also possible is that Fatos Bytyci is one of the Catholic reverts. That wouldn't mean that the report of conversions is exaggerated, but it would mean that anyone interested in the phenomenon should seek out more sources.

Perhaps some readers will happen to know of other articles on this issue.

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