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Kosovo: Thousands gather for cathedral's opening

Image: Several thousand people have gathered to mark the opening of a Roman Catholic cathedral named after Mother Teresa in Kosovo's capital Pristina.
Several thousand people gather to mark the opening of a Roman Catholic cathedral named after Mother Teresa in Pristina, Kosovo.Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

Several thousand people gathered in Kosovo's capital Sunday to mark the opening of a Roman Catholic cathedral named after Mother Teresa.

The ceremony is part of yearlong events celebrating 100 years since the birth of the Roman Catholic nun of ethnic Albanian origin who worked for a half-century with the sick and destitute of India and elsewhere. It also comes 13 years after her death.

In mostly Muslim Kosovo, the act is seen as a sign of good relations between Kosovo's different religions, but also an attempt by Kosovo authorities to steer clear of being too closely identified with Islam, fearing it could damage support for its Western-backed statehood.

Around 90 percent of Kosovo's population is Muslim, with Roman Catholics making up about 5 percent and the rest are Orthodox Christians.

A procession of priests paraded on the main street against a backdrop of posters announcing festivities for the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Inside the red-brick Cathedral, the worshippers wearing white scarves to commemorate the event scrambled to find places. Christian banners lined the gallery as some wore traditional costumes and waved Albanian flags.

"This glorifies the faith, but also the greatness of our nation," said Jak Gjergji, dressed in his Sunday best.

Work on the Cathedral was started in 2007 by late President Ibrahim Rugova, the iconic leader of Kosovo's quest for independence from Serbia who is rumored to have converted to Christianity before his death.

Clerics say the cathedral will take another two years to be completely finished. Local and international officials joined faithful from all over Kosovo to attend the first ever Mass held in the cathedral.

Since plans were announced for razing a high-school to make way for the cathedral, the issue has drawn controversy and sparked fears it could incite religious tensions.

Underlining such fears Kosovo police beefed up security and deployed extra police on the ground, and placed snipers on rooftops.

Just steps away from the cathedral, 19-year-old Driton Sylejmani, a devout Muslim displayed photos of Muslims praying outside crowded mosques. "We hope authorities will house these faithful too," an inscription above the photos said.

"We have an Orthodox Church, now the Catholic Church," Sylejmani said. "If some tourists come visit Pristina in the heart of the city they would not think this was a Muslim place. We have no reason to be ashamed for being Muslim."

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia still claims the territory as its own.