„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“

Catch the Vision 2008, Albania

Catch the Vision seminar - Shkodra, Albania: Coexistence, Conversation, Cooperation: Promoting Interfaith Dialogue

Narrative Report
Place: Shkodra, Albania,

Dates: November 14. - 19.2008
Hosting movement: The YMCA of Albania

Venue: Hotel Colosseo

Participants:
Total number: 38 / Female: 17 / Male: 21 / Below 30: 29 / Over 30: 9

Represented counties:
Albania (8), Czech Republic(4), England(2), Finland(1), Germany(2), Iceland(2), Ireland(1), Kosovo(7), Macedonia (1), Norway(1), Poland(4), Russia(1), Scotland (1), Slovakia (1), The Netherlands(2).

General information and approach:
Since the year 2000 the Catch the Vision Seminar has been organised for the fifth time. Before this one in Albania, the events had been held in Czech Republic, Jerusalem and Ramallah, Kosovo and Armenia.

All these events are an important part of YMCA Europe strategy, and through all of them have been searched the Christian vision of the YMCA-movement as well as the Spiritual Roots for Reconciliation. The overall objective of the seminars is not to establish the permanent solution for the sorrows of the contemporary world. It is to inspire the participating individuals to create personal attitudes to the process of reconciliation. This should be achieved through learning, practical activities and reflection. All this should contribute to the process of shaping modern YMCA ideology.

This event gave a chance to young people across Europe to meet and share their experience, ideas and visions on best practices and potential programmes promoting intercultural and interfaith dialogue including peaceful conflict resolution. It is expected that the best practices of this initiative will be implemented and multiplied by the YMCAs in the areas of social tension.

Shkodra was chosen as the place of the event because this is the area where the believers of various denominations (Christian and not-Christian) live together, and although the inhabitants face many serious social problems, the tensions do not have any religious background. The theme: " Coexistence, Conversation, Cooperation: Promoting Interfaith Dialogue" is not mere a slogan here.

Programme:

- Introduction to Albania - Albania and Shkodra today

Shkodra, as the city and the county, was presented by the local authority representatives at the town hall. During the lectures and power-point presentation the participants were introduced to the specifics of the area: geographical, historical, economy and social features as well as the main challenges for the present and the future. Some of the topic were to be developed during the particular sessions of the event.

- Workshops and Group Work

This part of the programme was run by Michael Wardlow, the expert from Northern Ireland. The practical activities served better understanding the truths of other people: individuals or groups. The rule of being different yet equal was recognised as a challenge, but also a fundamental condition for reconciliation. The main drift, though biblically rooted, pointed to the general necessity of respecting the religious diversity which should be taken more for the richness of culture than for a source of problems. All that was very relevant to the social and religious structure of Shkodra.

- Visits to the Mosque and the Catholic Cathedral Church and the Orthodox Church

Visits to mosque and talking to the Imam was an opportunity of learning about the attitude of Muslim clergy in Albania towards other creeds. The expressed views were far away from hostility and intolerance and close to peaceful way solving problems. Important information about Muslim - Christian relationships were provided also by the orthodox priest during the visit in this church. Thanks to such attitude of the clergy the tension between the Christian and non-Christian denominations does not exist.

The atmosphere of tolerance and peaceful coexistence was also overwhelming at the catholic grammar school run by Italian Jesuits and The Peace Village - ecumenical centre organised by the Catholic Church.

- Ecumenical devotion and worship

The need of inter faith dialogue and common responsibility for the peace in the world were demonstrated in the worship conducted by the participants who represented various, Christian denomination, Islam and Baha'i Faith. The devotions were in accordance with World YMCA and YWCA Week of Prayer and World Fellowship which was celebrated 9 - 15. November. This year' theme was "Born Free, Born Equal: Celebrating Human Rights"

- Exposure to the Romany. Visits in the Romany community incl. Albanian YMCA's initiatives.

Visiting the parts of the city inhabited by a direct contact with the present reality of Albania. The participants had an opportunity of seeing the dwellings which were much fare away from any European standards.
This trip was also an introduction to the specific profile of the Shkodra YMCA. The work on the improvement of living conditions of the Romany is the main feature of this YMCA. The contribution to the foundation of the primary school for the Romany children and running after school activities were presented as the achievements of the association.

The continuation of the Romany topic was the documentary "The book of the records of Shutka" by Aleksandar Manic (2005). Shutka is a town in Macedonia and presents another example of the Romany community in the Balkans. The Gypsy contribution to the Balkan culture is undisputable, however, the process of integration of the Romany nation with the societies of particular countries is a challenging process. The plenary discussion after the film was an example of the complexity of the issue.

- Dictatorship in Albania - people's experience

The key activity were very personal memories and opinions of those participants ( YMCA and YWCA members) who spent their youth in totalitarian Albania. That was followed by the film "Slogans" by Gjergj Xhuvani (2001). The plenary discussion after the film presentation was possibility of sharing the feelings and personal conclusion. All this should have helped to understand the recent history of Albania and realise dimension of the challenge of building the civic society in contemporary Albania.

- Blood-feud issue

Blood-feud is the law of vendetta dated back to the medieval times and based on clan code called Kanun. It is still observed by the inhabitants of northern Albania and causes problems in terms of contemporary law system as well as human rights. As a few hundreds of families are involved in that type conflicts, finding the way to the reconciliation is a matter of concern of the religion and political leadership of Albania. The Shkodra County is the main area affected by that.

The Kanun and blood-feud historical and social background was provided by the experts in the lectures. This was followed by a documentary film "Vendetta" by Jerzy Śladkowski (1996).
The plenary discussion concluded this part of the seminar.

- News from the YMCAs in the Balkans

Because of the place and presence of Balkan YMCAs, during the event was presented the development of the Organisation in the Balkan countries, international co-operations in the Region and plans for the future. It was done by the representatives of particular Balkan movements and YMCA Europe staff. That was done mostly during the side-meetings.

- Reception in "IRIS" Gallery

This local gallery cooperates with the YMCA of Shkodra within particular projects where arts are involved. This and the specific atmosphere of the place were the reasons why this place was chosen for the place of the reception.

- Evaluation

Evaluation was done during separate plenary session, where each participant in the circle was sharing his experiences and evaluation of the seminar as well through different games which were focusing on all main programme parts of the seminar as well its preparatory process and logistic. Generally, the seminar was very high evaluated and for some participants it was the great inspiration for starting of interfaith activities in their home countries and organizations (Netherlands). A bit critical was the evaluation of the day about blood-feud - the issue was too much rooted on local reality and for the most of participants it has more informative then practical importance. Certain dominancy of some discussions by participants from Albania and Kosovo was also mentioned during evaluation session.
Participants of the seminar were also asked to share with the organisers their opinions and reflections in written form (and to send them to YE office). One of such 'blogs' was published on YE website.