As soon as the weekday Mass was over Sister Virgina, personal assistant at the parish of the Cathedral, as there is no priest can be appointed to the parish (there are a total of 6 priests for 14 parishes), handed me a sheet of paper with an intention for Mass: nje mesh per pulat, a Mass for chickens. An elderly woman had come to ask a Mass praying to the Lord to protect her chickens. I smiled with the nun… but then a deeper reflection took over.
People’s real life is so simple and concrete, so straightforward, that at times it takes me aback.
We are so accustomed to theological and spiritual concepts that we are disconcerted when faced with similar requests. I came from a rural background and I perfectly understand this woman’s concerns. Very often, a few chickens, a cow, a goat or some sheep constitute the only means of livelihood. They are precious and dear things to these people and if something were to happen to them the family would be in serious trouble. Life is so powerful and important that sometimes it is anchored onto anything in order to be reaffirmed, including chickens.
In my diocese people still live of these simple things, and celebrating Mass by praying also for the cattle is important, for everyday life depends on that. In fact there are families that through the returns obtained by selling their produce manage to send their children to school, buy schoolbooks or pay college fees. Every day I see people on the streets selling their produce, some eggs, two or three bottles of milk, some freshly-picked vegetables… They sell these items to make ends meet. So a Mass for the vineyard, for potato crops, for agricultural products, for chicken and for the cattle is a Mass for life.
Thus life enters our celebrations also through these “simple”, “small” things. In fact, thanks to them our prayer is imbued with new breath.
I will say the Mass for the chickens of this old lady with all my heart, precisely because it is a service to life, to her life. As a pastor, by celebrating Mass according to the intention of this woman, I have carried out a service for her life and that of her family. I have kept that sheet of paper, I placed it in front of my laptop so I can see it while I’m working on the computer. In fact while the latter brings me into a virtual world that can be alienating and frustrating at times, those simple words, written in basic Albanian, allow me to delve into concrete life and remind me that I belong to the earth.
(*) bishop of Rrëshen (Albania)