Archd., 2; dioc, 4; a.a. 1; abp., 3; bp., 3; parishes, 123; priest, 133 (43 dioc., 90 rel.); p.d.,1; sem., 45; bros., 18; srs., 406; bap., 5,415; Caths., 495,000 (15.7%); tot . pop. 3,150,000.

Republic in the Balkans, bordering the Adriatic Sea; capital, Tirana. Christianity was introduced in apostolic times. The northern part of the country remained faithful to Rome while the South broke from unity following the schism of 1054. A large percentage of the population was to become Muslim following the invasion (15 century) and long centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Turks. Many Catholics fled to Southern Italy, Sicily and Greece. In 1945 , at the same time of the communist takeover, an estimated 68 percent of the population was Muslim; 19 percent was Orthodox and 13 percent, Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church prevailed in the North. During 45 years of communist dictatorship, the Church fell victim, as did all religions, to systematic persecution: non-Albanian missionaries were expelled; death, prison sentences and other repressive measure were enacted against Church personnel and laity; Catholic schools and church were closed and used for other purposes, and lines of communication with the Holy See were cut off.

In 1967, the government, declaring it had eliminated all religion the country, proclaimed itself the first atheist state in the world. The right to practice religion was restored in the late 1990. In March 1991, a delegations from the Vatican was allowed to go to Albania; later in the year diplomatic relations were established with the Holy See at the request of the Albania prime minister. Pope John Paul II made a one-day visit to the country Apr. 25, 1993, during which he ordained four bishops appointed by him in December 1992 to fill long-vacant sees. Restoration of the church is a slow and difficult process. The first Albanian cardinal was named in November 1994.

In early 1997, rioting occurred after thousands if Albanians lost their investments in collapsed pyramid schemes, and in southern Albania, churches and mosques were looted and vandalized. Although Catholics are a minority, they are well respected, including for their work in the education and health fields. Albanians welcomed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo during Yugoslav persecution in 1999.

(The above exert comes from Our Sunday Visitor's 2004 Catholic Almanac and is used on this web site with the publisher's permission.)