By LAURA SANICOLA
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
Dozens of protesters stood outside Fordham’s main gates Tuesday evening, braving the 10-degree weather and proudly displaying signs that stated, “Religion Free of Foreign Influence” and “Albanians Deserve an Independent Albanian Church.”
At the same time, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania was receiving an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during the Orthodoxy in America Lecture at the Fordham University Church on the Rose Hill campus. The protesters who crowded Fordham’s gate chanted in opposition of the decision of Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, to honor the archbishop, argued that the Greek archbishop is alienating the Albanian community and Hellenizing Albania.
Albanian Roots Inc., an organization co-founded by Marko Kepi, organized the protest and Fordham University students, alumni and individuals of Albanian descent from across the city attended.
Members of the Balkan Student Association of Fordham University were also in attendance. The crowd cheered for speeches that various activists gave, who shared a common message: “We are Albanians, not Greeks.”
Members of the Fordham community have felt the impact of this change in leadership in Albania and are not keeping quiet. The Balkan Student Association (BSA) wrote to McShane in a letter dated Jan. 23, 2014, decrying his position to honor the archbishop.
“We, Fordham students and alumni of Albanian descent, express our opposition to Fordham University’s conferral of an honorary doctorate of humane letters on the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios Yannoulato,” the letter begins. The BSA writes, “Archbishop Anastasios does not embody Albania’s most precious values: interfaith harmony and friendly relations with neighbors.” The letter goes on to describe how the current archbishop is turning the Albanian Orthodox Church into an annex of the Greek Orthodox Church and is threatening religious diversity for Greek nationalistic purposes.
“If Fordham wants to honor religious tolerance in Albania, we suggest that the university awards an honorary doctorate to Bishop Fan Noli, posthumously, or to the current Bishop of the Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America, His Grace Archbishop Nikon (Nicholas Liolin), Bishop of Boston, New England and the Albanian Archdiocese,” the letter states. The Dielli news website later published the letter online.
Anastasios was elected as the Head of the Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania in 1992. Greek-Albanian tensions have wavered for the past few decades, as the two nations have technically been in a state of war since World War II. However, the conflict between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Albanian Orthodox Church has been a source of recent contention.
Endri Merxhushi, a member of the Albanian-American Organization, said: “What the Archbishop is trying to say is that all Orthodox Albanians are rather Greek than Albanian. By doing that you are saying that there is 25 percent of Greek Orthodox in Albania and that Greece should seek for expansion of territory.”
He continued: “We are rallying because [the Archbishop] is here in the United States. We do not think he should be getting this award. We believe he should have left his position a long time ago. Now he wants to die as a Greek Orthodox in Albania. What can you make of that?”
Dhurata Osmani, FCLC ‘14, is a member of the Balkan Student Association, and was more than willing to share her experience and opinions with Fordham
“The Archbishop is pushing Greek ideologies on Albania,” she said. “We are protesting having a Greek archbishop of the Albanian Orthodox Church. There should be a separation between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Albanian Orthodox Church.”
“Albania is a country of many faiths, including Christian Orthodox and Muslim,” said Venona Vilajeti, FCLC ‘14, and a member of the BSA as well. “We ask the archbishop to respect the Albanian Orthodox Church and keep it separate from Greece, and to keep our services in Albanian and not Greek language.”
Protesters spilled from the sidewalk corner and into the streets. Despite the presence of the NYPD and campus security, Ram Vans experienced difficulty both entering and exiting the campus. A security guard at the gate said this was the first rally of its kind this year at Fordham.
McShane’s office did not return a request for comment.
Connor Ryan contributed reporting.