Crypto-Christians in Kosovo have now started to practice their faith openly again after centuries of living double lives, reports Albert Ramaj, director of the Swiss-based Albanian Institute (http://www.albanisches-institut.ch) in the March issue of Glaube in der 2. Welt.
Similar to what happened to crypto-Jews in Portugal and Spain (who pretended to convert to Christianity at the time of Inquisition, while secretly keeping their Jewish faith), Christians in some parts of the Ottoman Empire converted officially to Islam, sometimes originally in order to evade taxes imposed upon non-Muslims. This was especially the case in some Albanian populated areas of the Balkans, where the existence of crypto-Christians was documented from the 17th century.
In some cases, they visited priests privately, being baptized secretly. The baptisms were then recorded in secret registries, since there was a real danger for Muslims receiving a Christian sacrament. Such baptisms still took place in the 1970s. Priests also used also to make secret visits to some villages where such people were known to live.
While a majority of people in Kosovo are nominally Muslims, and issues of Islamic identity of the country have been recently raised again in some circles, most people in Kosovo tend to be secularized and not very committed to religion. This may has contributed to recent changes among crypto-Christians. Some continue to live between Islam and Christianity, even visiting both mosque and church when there is a festival; they may be sometimes uncertain about where they stand, especially where mixed marriages have taken place. But a growing number of those crypto-Catholics are now coming out of the closet. In 2005 and 2006, groups in the Rugova and Drenica areas have openly declared their Christian faith and have built Catholic churches in their villages.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
(Glaube in der 2. Welt, P.O. Box 9329, 8036 Zurich, Switzerland)