Special thanks to Kate Monaghan, Assistant Communications Director for the Archdiocese of New York, for facilitating this interview, and to the Prebibajs’ daughter, Valentina, for translating.
As youths baptized in Albania while the country was under Communist rule, Lule Prebibaj and her husband Ndoke’s baptisms were literally life-threatening. The Communist regime that took control of the country after World War II essentially banned religion and suppressed religious institutions and observances. Lule recalls as a child how her mother took her out in the middle of the night so a priest could baptize her under the cloak of darkness.
“My mother told me we had to go at night to where the Church used to be,” said Lule. “The priest came and baptized me, and it was the same for my husband. It had to be done at night and in secret.” The couple also recollects how, as children, they had to be secretive about their beliefs. “We both remember every day after a holy day the teachers asking us what we had for dinner or if our parents lit a candle or said a prayer,” said Lule. “We were told by our parents that we should always say ‘no.’ It wasn’t until later on that we understood why they were asking us those questions.”
To help his family escape Communist rule, Ndoke went to Italy for five years and obtained legal documents for Lule and their four children to join him. After two years in Italy, Ndoke was selected in the Green Card Lottery and the couple, along with their children, became permanent residents of the United States in 1999.
After coming to America the couple raised their children in the faith, even though they themselves were never confirmed or received First Communion. That’s all about to change: they are both candidates for full initiation in the Church.
“Our decision to request these sacraments was an easy one because we knew it was long overdue,” said Lule. “While growing up we did not have the chance to do so because the Communist ruler abolished Catholicism and killed anyone who practiced it, including priests and nuns, destroyed churches and executed anyone who stood in his way.”
Describing themselves as a “very religious family,” they said one of their dreams was to receive all the sacraments of initiation, and now that they live in a country where they are free to express their religious beliefs, they’re doing just that. “It’s a wonderful feeling to openly say who we are, and it’s absolutely wonderful to be able to receive these sacraments. Better late than never, right?” said Lule.
This year Lule and Ndoke are two of the 1,470 candidates and catechumens the Archdiocese of New York will welcome at Easter, and living proof that it’s never too late.