Inside this ancient shrine dating back to the sixth century, a most touching mural fresco depicts the Madonna and Child.
Under the yoke of persecution
In the fifteenth century Muslim Turks invaded the country, opposing the Christian faith. Gjergi Kastriot Skanderbeg, the national hero of the Albanians, prayed to Our Lady of Scutari for protection and stood up against the invaders for 25 years. He was known as the "athlete" of Christ. Scutari fell to the Muslims in 1467, and the Albanians had the choice between becoming a slave or going into exile.
Skanderbeg's son accompanied the exiles in their crossing of the Adriatic Sea. In this context, on April 25, 1467, the image of Our Lady of Scutari, Mother of Good Counsel, disappeared and reappeared in the church under construction by the Augustinian Fathers in Genazzano, near Rome. Some believed it was a miracle, but it is more likely that the image was carried by Christian refugees who took it with them in exile.
It is a fact that many miracles have occurred in the presence of this icon. Therefore, reproductions of the image were made in Geneva, at Monte Cassino and Frosinone, Madrid, New York and elsewhere ...
[cf. Mikel Prennushi, la storia di un popolo alla Madonna del Buon affidata consiglio, in "L'Osservatore Romano," sabato 30 gennaio 1993]
A Church Reborn
In 1854, the year of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic Albanians and Bishop Topic organized a procession in Scutari, and under the eyes of Turks, sang the praises of the All Holy One.
In 1895, the Bishops of Albania proclaimed Our Lady of Good Counsel "Protectress of all Albania," with a special feast celebrated on April 25th.
The independence of Albania was declared in 1912. Marian congregations flourished at that time, including the Daughters of Mary.
The protection of Our Lady was very evident during the bombardment of Scutari on March 12th, 1913: there was surprisingly very little damage done, in spite of the 35,000 projectiles that fell on the city.
In 1917, the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Scutari was rebuilt, precisely on the same spot where the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel was in 1467 before it was taken away to Genazzano Italy.
The Communist era: A time of martyrs
On February 11th, 1943, Bishop Prennushi devoted the nation to the heart of Mary Immaculate, since he saw Communism arriving at the Albanian borders.
Communism came about in 1945, with hard-core atheism. "It was forbidden to call a girl "Mary" or "Anne," instead Christian girls had to be prudently named "White Star" or "December Snow."
In 1967, under the spell of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, those who still resisted atheism were eliminated by the dictator Enver Hoxha, the clergy were tortured or shot. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Counsel was razed. Churches and mosques were turned into stables or stores.
But the victory of atheistic Communism was ephemeral: it fell on Nov. 4, 1990, and Catholics then rebuilt their churches.
The visit of John Paul II
On April 22, 1993, John Paul II went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Genazzaro (Italy) before heading to Scutari (Albania) two days later on April 25th, to bless the foundation stone for the reconstruction of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Counsel, the "Zoja e Shkodra" Church. On that day, all Albanians were side by side: Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, giving the good example of peaceful coexistence.
Excerts from Attilio GALLI, Madre della Chiesa nei cinque continenti, edizioni Segno, 1996.