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l's Albanian Catholic Church Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Fr. Anton Kcira's Priestly Ministry

Fr. Anton Kcira: The Embodiment of the Corporal Works of Mercy

Franz-Llesh Grishaj -- by Franz-Llesh Grishaj, Sunday, 10 June 2007

Your Excellency - Archbishop Zef Gashi with fellow clerics who represent God's Heavenly Kingdom on Earth, political dignitaries, distinguished guests, members of the Kcira family, dear friends, parishioners of St. Paul's Albanian Catholic Church, and brothers and sisters of Ethnic Albania - Good evening!

At this time, I kindly ask that you join me in praising our multi-talented Franciscan Sisters: Gabriella Vulaj, Irena Prenrecaj, and Luljana Marku, the preparatory committee headed by Mr. Gjovalin Lumaj, and the Church Council for organizing the 40th Anniversary of Fr. Anton Kcira's Priestly Ministry. Also, allow me to publicly thank them for finding me worthy to be the English keynote speaker for this jubilee.

Furthermore, if I may, as adopted sons and daughters of the United States we must never forget and always acknowledge, with gratitude and praise, the blessings of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness that we have found in our adopted land. Nowhere else, and I mean, nowhere else, can an ethnic community like ours truly become accepted within the social fabric of the society and yet maintain and preserve our religious, cultural, linguistic, and traditional customs as we have. This very day, President George W. Bush in his historic visit to Tirana, Albania, personally witnesses not only Albanian hospitality but also the immense love and admiration that Albanians have for the U.S.A. - the adopted land of their fellow Albanians.

How awesome is it that on the very Solemnity of Corpus Christi [The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ] that we, at St. Paul's, celebrate Fr. Anton's 40th anniversary of his ordination (especially, when put into its proper context, that the primary ministry of a priest is to consecrate and offer the Most Holy Eucharist, and forgive sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit). Indeed, breathtaking and inspirational for such a deserving soul!

When you come to know Fr. Anton, you recognize that you are not dealing with a one-dimensional person. Instead, you quickly come to the realization that he is a unique, multi-faceted individual: a man, a priest, a humanitarian, an Albanian patriot, and an activist, highly capable and highly spiritual in all categories.

Fr. Anton stems from a well-known Catholic and Albanian patriotic family. His paternal origin descends from the Nikaj clan of the rugged mountain strongholds of Puka in northern Albania. In 1743, Lazer Dede Kcira would leave his native Puke and settle within the vicinity of Gjakova in Kosove. Lazer's great grandson, Pashk Prek Kcira, in 1920, marries Marije Rrok Gjini from the Bytuci family of Prizren. From this holy union of matrimony they would be blessed with twelve children. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, only four would live to maturity: Kola, Anton, Filja, and Lazer.

Fr. Anton was born on 17 June 1939 in Gjakova, Kosove. He started his elementary education in the municipality of Brekoc in Gjakove. However, even though his father was the mayor of Brekoc, Pashk felt duty-bound, for his family's future, to leave his beloved Gjakove due to the constant communist harassment he endured. In 1955 he settled with his family in Shkup - the birthplace of the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (more commonly known as our very own Mother Teresa). There, Fr. Anton finished his elementary years in the Grammar School "Liria" and afterwards enrolled in the Classical Gymnasia "Pazin" in the region of Ister, Croatia in 1957. After two years, Fr. Anton abruptly stopped his schooling as he was called to active duty and required to complete 24 months of compulsory military service in Aleksiniski near Nish (1959-1961). Immediately after being honorably discharged, he continued with his studies and graduated in June 1963. Sensing his vocation he responded to God's calling by entering the Catholic Seminary in Gjakovo, Croatia where he studied theology and philosophy. On 29 June 1967, Fr. Anton was ordained a priest in the very church were he was baptized - St. Peter's Church in Gjakova, Kosove, in which, after three days he would celebrate his first Mass. A year later, he would receive his degree in theology and was immediately assigned as associate pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary in Bishtrazhin (1968-1969). He then was reassigned as pastor at St. Anthony's Church in Guci, Montenegro (1969-1970), served as pastor at St. Anthony's Church in Gllogjan (1970-1989), and since November 1989, served as pastor and now administrator at St. Paul's Albanian Catholic Church in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

It was early in his ministry that Fr. Anton's fire and brimstone sermons about God's immense love for humanity and the necessity of repentance began to captivate people's attention. It not only earned him acknowledgment, admiration, and loyalty from the faithful, but also misunderstanding and even bitterness from the communist cadres and their sympathizers who espoused atheism in Yugoslavia. This same sentiment, of either appreciation or, unfortunately, condemnation, would continue to follow Fr. Anton even to this very day. However, what else can a servant of Christ expect? Did our Lord not say, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18) and furthermore assured his disciples that "… men will hate you because of me" (Mark 13:13). Yes, brothers and sisters, yes, Sacred Scriptures verifies it as it also makes it perfectly clear that, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (Matthew 5:11). And, blessed Fr. Anton is and will continue to be because, "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord" (Jeremiah 17.7).

According to Mother Teresa, "Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service." And serve, Fr. Anton does, as taught by St. Paul, "so we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us" (2 Corinthians 5:20). During his tenure in Gllogjan, Fr. Anton, calling on the faithful, in the name of Christ, overcame Yugoslav communist governmental obstacles and impediments as well as some local opposition to accomplish the following: He led the rebuilding of the old existing St. Anthony into the new and much improved one in 1974; in the same year built another new Church in Gllavicice, thus founding the new parish of the Church of St. Cross; and in 1979 converted the old chapel in Poterc into the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul. (These new churches have been documented in Dr. Don Gasper Gjini's book, The Shkup-Prizren Diocese Throughout the Centuries.)

Besides constructing temples to honor the Almighty and Ever Living God and loyally serving His people, Fr. Anton also resembled, in deeds, much like a Texas Sheriff of the Wild West. He involved himself with the task of reconciling existing disputes between neighbors as well as ending blood feuds. Unlike the lawmen of the West, however, who used colt 45's Fr. Anton tamed men's heart with the Gospel of Christ and, as a result, brought peace, harmony, and love of humanity as he internalized and demonstrated the Beatitude's, "Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9). In addition, Fr. Anton's ambassadorship for Christ brought him much esteem within the Muslim community as he actively pursued dialogue and cooperation with our Albanian Muslim brethrens, therefore fostering mutual understanding and respect between the two religions.

Providence would dictate that the proclamation, "Behold, I come to do your will, O God" (Hebrew 10:7) would eventually lead Fr. Anton, accompanied by the spiritual director of the Albanians in exiles, Fr. Daniel Gjecaj, OFM, to St. Paul's Albanian Catholic in Warren, Michigan on 12 October 1989. Three days later the two of them co-celebrated the Holy Mass to a capacity crowd.

In retrospect, how proper and how fitting is it that an infant child baptized in a church named after St. Peter, received his ordination for the priesthood on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, and now travels nearly 6,000 miles to minister to a congregation bearing the name of the Apostle who first preached the Gospel to the Albanians - St. Paul himself! Coincidental? I believe not. Fr. Anton's timely connection to St. Paul's was too crucial and too historic to be accidental; he truly was God-sent. At long last the Evil Empire was crumbling as Communism in Eastern Europe began to collapse; particularly significant for us - the demise of the artificial state of Communist Yugoslavia, and the mass exodus of Albanians fleeing the last bastion of Stalinism, Enverite Albania. And just like "the heroic Church of Albania upset by a long hard persecution, but enriched by the testimony of its martyrs" as described by the Great Pope John Paul II, so too did St. Paul's Albanian Catholic Church senselessly suffer from the communist propaganda of Titoism and Enverism which had taken its toll; as the church was left in the hands of fifty or so faithful families along with the At Gjergj Fishta Council (first Albanian Knights of Columbus Council in the U.S.).

Comparable to a prophet of old, Fr. Anton's weekly sermons revolved around atonement and redemption. He publicly condemned the atheistic communist propaganda of Albania and Yugoslavia and embraced the prodigal families of St. Paul's as they came back en masses. With their return, combined with the newly arrived political refugees from Mother Albania, our congregation experienced a reincarnation. As he had done in the past, Fr. Anton immediately began to show his organizational and fundraising skills. He gathered around himself talented, willing community members and under his leadership they and the faithful, set in motion a series of objectives which were all successfully accomplished: the remaining debt owed the Archdiocese of Detroit was paid in full; the residential home, adjacent to St. Paul's, was purchased and renovated into a rectory; the interior of the church was remodeled; a central air system was installed; and the parking lot was paved. Also, in 1995, Fr. Anton had the foresight to purchase a picturesque 29-acre site in Rochester Hills where our magnificent church and multipurpose center was completed in June 2002; and just last year a statue in honor of Athleta Christi [the Athlete of Christ], - the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti - Skanderbeg, was erected.

Fr. Anton and the faithful also helped the rebuilding of the Albanian Catholic Churches in Albania, Kosova, and Montengero. In addition, they assisted the displaced Albanians escaping Slobadan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaign by sending food, clothing, and various medical supplies. Fr. Anton, along with the faithful, vigorously campaigned for the independence of Kosova through peaceful rallies, petitions, conferences, and high-level congressional meetings. Fr. Anton also participated in several marches in Washington, D.C. and Detroit demanding justice and equality for the Albanians living on their ancestral lands in Malesia, the annexed part, under Montenegro jurisdiction. Fr. Anton distinguished himself, and brought much comfort, when he went to pray with and console our brothers detained in Montenegro since 9 September 2006. Fr. Anton with members of The Albanian-American Association "Malesia e Madhe" closely worked with the Mayor of Rochester Hills - The Honorable Bryan K. Barnett in establishing a Sister-City Alliance between Rochester Hills and the municipality of Tuz. Most recently Fr. Anton has publicly challenged the Immigration and Naturalization Services policy regarding the forceful deportation of God-fearing, God-loving, law abiding tax paying immigrants residing in the land of the free and the home of the brave. As a footnote, I cannot neglect to mention Fr. Anton's insight in recruiting our wonderful nuns, who I graciously call "The Doves of Christ".

In this short summary, however, it is obvious that due to time constraint, I was unable to highlight all the significant ways in which his daily pastoral duties of teaching, leading, and sanctifying have enriched our lives. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Fr. Anton; the man, the priest, the humanitarian, the patriot, and the activist has truly embodied the corporal works of mercy as inspired by Christ's sermon on the Last Judgment, " … Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew, 25:40).

In closing, please allow me, on behalf of all in attendance to make a special toast in Fr. Anton's honor: "Congratulations on the 40th Anniversary of your Ordination to the Priesthood; We respect you, we honor you, we love you, but most of all we are very proud of you - Sherifi i Krishtit [Sheriff of Christ] - and your illustrious service of Faith, Fatherland, and Prosperity. May Almighty God continue to bless us with you as our shepherd, and may He continue to bless you as the leader of your flock - cheers!"

I sincerely thank you for your patience and attentiveness. God bless!

Now it is my pleasure to hand the microphone over to my dear family friend, our esteemed chairperson, Mr. Julain Cefa.

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