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As Airstrikes Continue, Orthodox Albanians Pray for Refugees

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TIRANA, ALBANIA — Albanians give thanks and praise in churches all over Tirana on Sundays. This Sunday, however, they were praying about an uncertain future.

At an Albanian Orthodox Church in the capital city, parishioners lit candles in honor of those refugess forced from those homes, those who are on the run and those who have died.

Most Serbs are Orthodox and base their ethnic hatred mainly on the fact that most ethnic Albanians are Muslim.

But on this day in Tirana, the Orthodox Church reached out to the Muslim refugees. The pastor, who is American, put it all into perspective.

"Too many people see the conflict as a conflict between Orthodox and Muslims in Yugoslavia," he said. "And many people have asked our archbishop why the Orthodox are helping. I mean, it seems like in another country, they're not, and here we're helping. And it's not something strange because the essence of a Christian should be loving all people."

He said he was also looking to a higher power for help.

"We believe in a suffering God, a God that is close to those in need and those who are suffering. So we're continually praying for the suffering people, and we're asking all our congregation to pray for the refugees and any person suffering throughout this conflict."

Most of the refugees confined to the camps did not know they were being honored in nearby churches. Some wanted to throw their honor in another direction.

"Our mother, our soul, is America," said Halva Mametti, who had just escaped from Serbian forces clearing her village. "If it were not for America, we would be dead. Thanks America. God bless America. America has given us bread to eat."

Mametti could hardly control herself as she talked about what she witnessed as Serbs destroyed her village.

"First they took the men and women to the cellars. They anointed all the people with fuel and set fire to all the people," she said. "They beheaded the boys and girls. They took the eyes out of them."

The Albanians had cleared the site where Mametti and about 600 other refugees now call home for a school and church. For right now, however, it is a campground filled with tents and clothes hanging out to dry. The Albanian tradition of shoes left off outside the door is still a tradition.

More than 1000 refugees are expected in the next few days.

A Baptist missionary from the U.S. shared part of his Sunday sermon.

"Please pray, not only for the refugees that are here, but also for the refugees that are on their way; the refugees that are still trapped inside Kosovo trying to get out," he said.

Even with all the prayers, Albanian leaders say it could be impossible to handle all the refugees in the short term and especially the long term.

Albania's economy and infrastructure were very weak long before the first refugee arrived. With thousands of Kosovars in the area and thousands more on the way, many people say they don't know how this country can help it.