A visit to Tirana by AC Milan last month gave Altin Hysi, General Secretary of the Interconfessional Bible Society of Albania, the chance to obtain an autograph from Kaká, the Brazilian forward and midfielder, on a copy of the Society’s interconfessional translation of the New Testament.
The football team was staying at the Sheraton hotel which, as it happens, is near the Bible Society’s offices.
Accompanied by his young son Noel, a big fan of the Brazilian star, Mr Hysi went along to see if he could get Kaká’s autograph.
As well as being a star player – he signed last week with Real Madrid for a reported fee of £56m – Kaká, 27, is well known as an evangelical Christian. At the end of the match in which Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, he took off his jersey to reveal a T-shirt reading ‘I Belong to Jesus’ and fell to his knees to give thanks for the victory.
In the May 12 match against the Albanian national side there was less at stake, but security around AC Milan was nevertheless tight.
“What helped us was that the Albanian translator for the team is a Christian,” said Mr Hysi. “He told Kaká that I was a Christian and that I wanted an autograph on the New Testament.”
He managed to speak to the player on his way to the team press conference.
“There was not much time to talk because of the security around him and he was in a hurry. Nevertheless he stopped just to give me the autograph!”
Mr Hysi would love to have a permanent Bible exhibition in Tirana one day and when he does, he plans to give the special New Testament pride of place.
Also in May, the church in Tirana where Mr Hysi is in leadership welcomed Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, as their preacher. Lord Carey was visiting Albania, as honorary chaplain to an organisation called Christian Responsibility in Public Affairs. He was accompanied by his wife and by Lord Griffiths, the chairman of the organisation.
“He preached a great sermon and there was an amazing attendance which included some politicians,” said Mr Hysi. It was Lord Carey’s first visit to Albania. “He seemed relaxed and stayed after the service to talk to members of the congregation.”
Lord Carey said he had had “a wonderful time” in Albania.
“While religion may be practised freely, the culture is very materialistic,” he added. “Even so, there are many opportunities for the Gospel to flourish. We came away very impressed by the work of Christians such as those at Emmanuel Church.”