A Visit to the Down-Town Cathedrale
“The Lord may be with you,” said he gracefully.
“And with your spirit” repeated the small crowd.
My shoes were sticking a bit to the floor while I was walking to get to this bench, so I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to walk to go anywhere during this gathering. This is a very quiet place, to say the least. One of the quietest places I had been in. So much so, that I felt like my dumb shoes didn’t belong there. Some people might even say that the owner of these shoes didn’t belong there either.
But my coworker sitting beside me wasn’t one of them. He was the one who first talked about going to the church earlier that day and then invited me to this gathering when he saw my enthusiasm and most probably my eyes sparkling. Then 5 minutes ago he was waiting for me at the ridiculously large entrance steps. He looked so tiny sitting on them. I felt tiny stepping on them. And then microscopical when we actually entered the church.
Location: The Mother Teresa’s Cathedral in the center of Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo.
Emotions: confusion mixed with curiosity and a slight touch of embarrassment.
Thoughts: “Why haven’t I come here before?” and “Damn, these shoes are sticking to this floor!” and then “What is that?!” towards different objects to describe a few.
I was glad I had my friend near me because that meant I could vocalize some of these thoughts and ask questions and he would probably give me answers. Even though, I wasn’t sure what he would say about the shoes. But that is not the point. The focus was on the tall ceiling that finished with a firework-like painting in the center of which was a wooden eagle, the symbol of Albania.
I didn’t have to ask anyone what was that. I knew that already. The eagle represented our love for Albania and is a celebration of the fact that we’re Albanians first and Kosovars later, and then Catholics or Muslims, or just the curious girl in my case. And then the focus went to the wooden benches each ending with again a huge eagle that represents exactly what I said above and for some other Kosovars even more than that.
On the sides of the inside room, there were a number of windows made of stained glass that had different colors to it to form people’s portrait like the Pope, political leaders of Kosovo and other Catholic saints, or even scenes from the Bible. Most of them looked very Catholic from the distance. But it all looked very beautiful and massive. Just to add to the I-feel-so-tiny sensations.
We sat on the left row, not so far from the priest because we still wanted to see what he was doing, but not too close to notice the fact that I didn’t have the slightest clue of what was happening.
So just to be clear, even though I said I am going to church, this was more than a regular church. This is a famous cathedral in Kosovo. And a big project even for a small city like Prishtina. It started to build some years ago, and it is still in the process of finishing up. We could still see the marble pieces right outside the entrance and I could smell the newness of the place. In other words — a huge hole in the Catholic community’s wallet. A marble beauty that didn’t remind me of any place I had ever seen before.
The priest and his companions, two young boys and two young girls, who certainly had names and a purpose on this whole ceremony, came out of a small room with a cross on top of it. Helped by these young boys and girls, the priest got near the huge table made of marble that had sculptors on it. It looked very solemn and holly. He started to speak in a tender voice with a gracious manner to it. His words carefully picked sounded like he read and lived a lot before this day. His voice was deep and his accent so common of Kosovo. In his speech which was mostly made of his Geg’ accent, one could hear some standard Albanian’s words, making me feel respected and appreciated. His confident moves while opening the Bible and doing all the rituals just gave away his experience and the love I assumed he felt for his religion.
He continued. And we listened. He talked the words I was sure he said a lot of times. Then the crowd spoke back to him in multiple voices and depths and rhythms.
I could hear the voices right behind my back that repeated the holy words, but I couldn’t hear stories or emotions. I tried to catch the passion, but the only person who had what I was trying to listen was the priest. He was proudly wearing the green vestment on top of a different white piece of clothing that looked like satin to me. I had never seen these clothes before in my life. I had only read about them or seen them on TV. Everything in this room was new to my eyes and my brain. Even the people looked strange. Even my friend sitting on my left looked different.
At this point, we were sitting and standing and then we did more sitting and more standing. And then got interrupted by kneeling on the wooden part of the benches in praying position. I did all of that without speaking much while staring at the beautiful walls and windows and enjoying the voice of the choir, which we didn’t see. I didn’t feel like speaking or singing.
And that’s not just because I didn’t know any of the words or the songs. I just stood there not thinking about anything else, besides what my eyes were perceiving. I wanted to take the time to grasp everything that was happening. My hands were steady and my body very relaxed. When was the last time I were able to calm my body like this?
Even though I was amazed by the air of this whole room, I didn’t feel the divine spirit inside me, like I didn’t feel it during Ramadan’s in my house either.
I didn’t even understand most of the things religious people say to me, but I am familiar with what they make me feel.
When I was a little kid, they talked about God. My Grandma living with us even prayed and read to the God on his languages and with his books. My other Grandma and Grandpa still pray and still read and still are the model believers who believe in goodness and spend most of their days doing good things to other people. My Dad and my Mom, on the other hand, not so much.
But they all talked about Him. And they described him vividly and told me just a bit of what they thought I should know. That was enough for me to form Him on my mind and occasionally speak to Him. He never said or did anything back.
And then I made another effort to make me believe and make me see the wonders of Him. This time by reading The Book. I was 7.
When I was seen, I got yelled by my Dad who told me that I should read and learn from other books, and learn about numbers and grammar and what they were teaching me at school. I was shocked. This person was someone who loved books more than anyone I knew. He never forbid me to read anything. Except for that day.
I stopped feeling Him, not right away, but some months later, and haven’t felt Him ever since. I don’t have a feeling of something divine, bigger than me, observing and judging us. I know people who judge others to death and still get away with it.
When I look outside to the sky, I don’t feel like He is the creator of the stars and the air and me and you and all the trees and everything I see. Sure, I don’t know what made this, what made me, and that is still a big question to me even now. But I don’t call it a Him, a Her, a God, an Allah, or a spirit, for that matter.
Yet, I love religion. And the warmth it gives to people. And the kindness that pours out of people who truly believe. Maybe they all do it for a whole different reason than what I would like to think they do, but they still have this crazily strong support system that is also shared with so many people, forming a community that is there for one another. And that is amazing.
I love the rituals, and the songs, and the architecture, and the interior design, and the dresses, and the praying and the words and everything that has to do around it. I think is all very beautiful and it shows us a lot about what we need as human beings. We need art and reasons to stay alive and fight, and we need each other as a reminder that there is still goodness in all of us.
So I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. We also need answers to our most deep questions and support for our deepest and scariest fears. We need answers and we will seek answers because that is human nature. We can’t live without questioning why and how we live.
On the other hand…
I may have sheltered myself for years from any religion whatsoever. I may have run away, scared from the unknown and what other people might think. I may have been not vocal enough about my thoughts or my doubts. I may have not listened to enough people about their religious thoughts.
But it was this visit to this church, this out-of-my-little-bubble experience that opened my eyes and made me see that no matter what you believe in or what you don’t believe at all, we all gotta step outside our own tiny rock once in a while and see what’s out there. Otherwise, we might miss a whole universe.
And that is exactly how I felt when we left the Cathedral building. This happens every week here, just a few streets down from where I sleep and wake up and live my life, and I have never been a witness to what exactly goes on there. I have never seen this white place, or heard these songs, or met these faces. I have missed a world, even if I was never going to be a part of, I have missed seeing it.
Now into the outside world and on the hard concrete of the city, my shoes didn’t stick anymore. The air didn’t seem weird and the faces seemed very familiar. The night was approaching slowly, and the summer feeling to it made me feel nostalgic for all the summer nights I had as a child wondering and wondering and wondering and never stopping. I have never had my questions answered. Sometimes even, my questions went unnoticed altogether.
But it is in the process of seeking answers where the real meaning of being a human stands, not necessarily in getting those answers and clearing these doubts. I for sure got a great pleasure on my journey seeking for them. And today I think I just got a bit wiser!