On 26 November 2019 Albania was hit by its strongest earthquake in 40 years. The toll was heavy, with 51 people dead and 3,000 injured. In addition to these figures, 10,000 people lost their homes, including several hundred unable to find alternative accommodation due to building speculation arising from the small number of buildings still in use.
Just 10 km from the epicentre of the earthquake is Laç, a town of 17,000 inhabitants, home to the most historic Albanian Catholic community. Laç is also known because of its ancient shrine dedicated to Saint Anthony, a symbol of the faith and ecumenism of the local Church, which rose again in the 90s, following decades of “state atheism”. The area around Laç was hit hard by the earthquake, but the Shrine was spared, thank God.
The Franciscan Friars who run the Shrine in Laç immediately set up a reception centre where they could offer hospitality and medical care to those who were suddenly facing a cold Winter without a home. At the same time, they set up a home service to provide food and healthcare care for those in need. However, because of the large number of people in vulnerable circumstances, they cannot reach everyone. So, as well as building up their services, the friars have begun fundraising for the reconstruction of homes for those most in need.