Good Shepherd’s Albanian mission is gift to many people. Our Sisters in Albania are a lifeline to people who are being trafficked and to Filipinos who need to escape from abusive employment situations. They are teacher and mother to persecuted Roma (gypsy) street children, and they are comforters to babies who have been abandoned. They bring hope to young adults who fear that Albania offers them no future. They give instruction in the faith to Catholic parishes, and they serve whenever they are called upon to listen, intervene, rescue, feed, teach, advocate or otherwise bring light into a dark situation.
I took an extended vacation to the Balkans this spring and dropped in on our Sisters in Tirana and Korce to witness Good Shepherd’s Albanian mission. I was welcomed with Good Shepherd hospitality and was inspired to see the life-giving support that our Sisters bring to the Albanian people.
Good Shepherd’s Albanian mission
Sr. Mirjam Bieke (Province of Germany/Albania) has been a steady presence in Albania’s capital city of Tirana for six years, where she assists a Jesuit priest with parish activities. I had the joy of documenting Sr. Mirjam as she taught children how to receive their First Communion.
Their love for her is evident by the way they clamored to have their photographs taken with her!
Sr. Mirjam also collaborates with a nonprofit agency in Albania that works to combat human trafficking. It was this area of engagement that most resonated with Sister Olga Cristobal. Sr. Olga, a member of the Province of Mid-North America, was missioned 20 months ago to support Sr. Mirjam in her work. Today Sr. Olga finds herself supporting Sr. Mirjam while also taking on satisfying volunteer roles.
One of Sr. Olga’s most meaningful outreach efforts is her engagement with Filipinos who were lured to Albania as nannies, massage therapists, cooks and domestic helpers. She intervenes on their behalf when they experience problems with their employers and helps those who run away from abusive situations to return to the Philippine Islands.
Sister Olga said, “My work with Filipinos is a ministry of presence. I listen to them and help them work out their problems. Many employers keep the Filipinos’ passports to restrict their freedom.”
Sr. Olga said employers often take passports away from Filipinos and force them to work 10-12 hour days six days a week. They don’t follow labor contracts, such as providing health benefits or paying employee taxes, and when the immigration police come to the massage parlors the Filipino workers are told to hide in the closet or bathrooms.
Sr. Olga tosses out a lifeline to the Filipinos and gives them hope. She is also a comforting presence to abandoned newborn infants through a program called the Angel’s Cradle. The program is part of The Organization for the Support of Albanian Abandoned Babies (OSAAB),” a nonprofit where Sr. Olga volunteers.
“Before OSAAB was created, abandoned babies were taken to the hospital and were given numbers, not names. The babies never experienced being held, cuddled or rocked to sleep,” Sr. Olga said.
Thanks to OSAAB, volunteers now visit the hospital daily to feed, hold and talk to the infants.
“I show love to the babies. I speak to them in English, and they seem to understand because it comes from the heart,” Sr. Olga said.
The stigma attached to a child born out of wedlock still remains in Albania, according to Sr. Olga. She wants to impress upon the medical community and Albanian society the importance of giving abandoned babies the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.
It is important to Sr. Olga that people be respected for who they are, regardless of circumstances. This comes into play for her through another volunteer effort at the Jonathan Center, where she works with children and adolescents with Down Syndrome to help them develop skills.
“I want to be a positive support to these children and help them lead fulfilling and productive lives. They deserve compassion and sensitivity. We must treat them with respect and dignity as children of God,” Sr. Olga said.
This very active Sister also tutors young Albanian women in conversational English so they have better opportunities for finding good paying jobs in Albania or are able to work in an English speaking country.
Sister Olga said she is being enriched by each of these experiences. She has seen attitudes change toward single mothers and children with Down Syndrome. She has made new friends, learned the ways of a culture she didn’t know, and has enhanced her own lifelong learning.
“Everything I do in Tirana is to be a witness to God’s mercy and love,” Sr. Olga said.
“I am learning that in giving of myself for the mission I have to practice humility and patience and find joy in the midst of challenges. In the midst of poverty I have learned to live a simple life by identifying what’s most important to me and eliminating everything else as much as possible.
“Every person is a blessing. Witness. Let my life be my message,” she said.
Good Shepherd’s Albanian mission is one of hundreds of missions throughout the world. Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, more commonly known as Sisters of the Good Shepherd, are located in 73 countries. Sisters like Sr. Olga are often missioned beyond the borders of their province to support other Good Shepherd ministries.
Our history begins in 17th century France with a priest named Father John Eudes. It picks up in 1814 with a young girl, Rose Virginie Pelletier, who entered Religious Life at age 18 and was given the name Mary Euphrasia. This remarkable young woman went on to become the founder of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. Mary Euphrasia was beatified on April 30, 1933 and canonized as a saint by Pope Pius XII in 1940.
To learn the history of Sisters of the Good Shepherd visit the website for the Province of Mid-North America.