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Casa Betania: a “Star of Italy” for the children of Albania

President Mattarella has granted a prestigious recognition to the initiative founded by Antonietta Vitale in the Land of the Eagles that every day, for the past twenty years, has been helping children – orphans, abandoned, poor children – following the light of the Gospel. The coordinator of the Home, Monica Bologna, highlighted the meaning of the visit of Pope Francis in 2014 and future projects

Monica Bologna riceve il riconoscimento concesso a Casa Betania dall'ambasiatore d'Italia in Albania Cutillo

They received the Pope’s visit in 2014, now at the beginning of 2018, they were awarded the title of “Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy” by Italian President Matterella”. Casa Betania in Bubq, Albania, is an oasis of peace that gives affection and material support to the many orphaned, abandoned or poor children in this corner of Europe. We retraced the origin of this initiative with Monica Bologna, director of Casa Betania, along with its present profile and role.

The President of the Italian Republic honoured you with the title of “Knighthood of the Order of the Star of Italy” in recognition of your dedicated commitment to children and to the weakest brackets. What does this recognition mean to you? 
First of all I want to thank Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Ambassador Alberto Cutillo, on behalf of our President and founder Antonietta Vitale, who could not personally attend the ceremony for health reasons. This recognition is an official gratification of our work carried out with all the volunteers of Betainia for the past thirty years, committed in ensuring the development and growth of this initiative that expresses kind-heartedness, solidarity and love for children.

Betania, in Albania, in the past 20 years became a point of reference for the poor and for children in need who found a beacon of hope in your charitable activity… 
First of all it should be said that what has been created here in Albania has its origins in Italy, in 1990, where the many Homes were established, first in Veneto, then in Basilicata and recently also in Sardinia,. In fact, in the early 1990s, some people gathered around our founder to set up in their homeland, facing many difficulties and without any form of public support, a home for disadvantaged people living on the margins of society. Among them figured many Albanian unaccompanied minors that were landing on Italian shores. In keeping with a promise made to some of these youths, at the end of 1998, Antonietta Vitale and the Vice-President Luisa Baldo went to Albania and realized that these youths’ stories describing their living conditions were not the fruit of imagination but serious situations of extreme poverty and severe difficulty. Thus on January 8 1999, the foundress and Paola Guarnati arrived in Albania with the first Italian volunteers who put into action their project to provide a home to children, especially those without a family or with a single parent. Thanks to the first volunteers we managed to give a home to the first 15 children.

What is your personal experience? In that period I also went to Albania with the idea of having a few months’ volunteering experience in Bubq of FusheKruje in the house rented from the association bearing the Albanian name “Shoqata Betania”. In the months that followed I felt increasingly attracted by the Lord, by the way of living the Gospel in Betania, by the charism, by prayer, by the commitment, and I finally understood that it was the life I was meant for and that I wanted to donate it to the Lord and love Him through the children, the poor and the needy. All that seemed necessary and indispensable before now was no longer important.

I continued carrying out the mission in Albania, while I was increasingly convinced of my choice

Following the example of Mother Antonia who accompanied me and helped me overcome the daily ordeals that were never missing. I have been living here for 19 years, with no regret, and I feel that time has flown. The Divine Providence always gives us help.

During his trip to Albania Pope Francis wished to give public recognition to your charitable activity by choosing Betania as the ideal place for his message of charity for brackets and for children in particular. How was he received in your Centre? On September 21 2014, on the occasion of his visit to Albania Pope Francis honoured us with his presence in our centre of Bubq, donating us words of recognition and encouragement for the material and spiritual commitment of reception and integration between cultures and religions carried out according to the evangelical inspiration of the foundress. It was the most important, unexpected event … We lived it as the visit of our Lord in the person of His Vicar. The Lord that every day, if we allow ourselves to be surprised, we can see in the faces of the children entrusted to our care or in the poor who come to us for help. Since then, the façade of our church devoted to Saint Anthony of Pauda, Patron and inspirer of our charity intiative, bears a mosaic depicting the meeting of the Holy Father with our foundress and some children, to celebrate that event. To us it represents the encounter of our charisma with the shepherd of the universal Church.

How is the situation now that Albania appears to have made progress, or at least now that that it is no longer the same one you found in 1998?
Unquestionably since the fall of Communism Albania has experienced extraordinary transformations. However, there still are many brackets of poverty marked by deep-rooted difficulties, especially at spiritual level, despite the progress made so far. It is therefore necessary that as Christians we continue bearing witness to our encounter with the Lord Jesus, who offers us material help and so that increasing number of people may love God and be saved.

How many children have you helped in the centre throughout the years and what are the greatest difficulties? Over 250 children were taken care of until today, most of whom were newborn, until they came of age and even in the years that followed, some of them had a family and remained with us. Our decision to work here was motivated by the specific characteristics of this area, among the poorest in Albania. We immediately started our activity to help children, the poorest among the poor, abandoned, orphan of father, mother or of both parents, sometimes coming from situations of extreme poverty and from disadvantaged families. Unfortunately, despite our good will many families sought help for their children who could not be hosted in the community. We thus created a form of support that over 500 children have benefited from through forms of distant adoption thanks to many people who ensured monthly support to these children. Whenever possible, thanks to the Italian benefactors, the most meritorious are given the possibility of studying in Italian and Albanian universities.

During the ceremony for the awarding of the “Knighthood of the Order of the Star of Italy”, in the seat of the Italian Embassy in Tirana, you mentioned that the Albanian State and local authorities should give a helping hand to support education projects for children from families in situations of extreme poverty. Do you experience difficulties in carrying out your mission? When our charity initiative was set up in Albania, Betania responded to the silent appeal of many young extended hands. Today we seize the opportunity of this recognition to ask the help of local authorities, since ensuring help to these children has become very onerous also as a result of the widespread, difficult economic crisis. We hope that after many years lived in industrious silence it will finally be possible to obtain a concrete form support for them, that it may allow us to be increasingly present and active in goodness, in this nation that volunteers consider their adoption home.

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