Stephanos Ritsi, 9, son of Father Martin Ritsi, helps with the liturgy at St. Martin's Church in the village of Jeronisht. Ritsi has been helping to resurrect religion in long-isolated Albania. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 The villagers of Jeronisht, listen as Rev. Martin Ritsi, an orthodox priest from Orange County, celebrates their first liturgy in 29 years in St. Martin's Church. The walls are bare, as religious icons were confiscated years ago by the government.©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Fotini Koco, 73, sweeps the empty church as Dhoma Cano, 74, center, embraces Father Martin Ritsi, who has come to the village of Narta to give a Saturday morning Easter service. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 As a result of a typically hard Albanian life, Dhoma Cano, 74, from the village of Narta, in good spirits, displays a weathered face and toothless grin in the church where Father Martin Ritsi struggled through a Easter service for a few paltry worshippers. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Left, Father Martin Ritsi, 36, and Demeter Sinani, 51, leader of mountainous village of Burisht, discuss proposals for next year's budget in the Diaconia Agapes, the Service of Love program. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Kelva Halili, 3, from Burisht, one of six villages where Ritsi's development program was launched last year. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Father Martin Ritsi, 36, from Orange County is helping to resurrect religion in long-isolated, once-atheist Albania. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Iftijime Hazizi, 70, overcome with emotion, as the bell of St. Martin's church is rung, signaling the beginning of the first Orthodox service in 29 years in Jeronisht. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Artan Kosti, Father Martin Ritsi's assistant, hands out flower seed packets to enthusiastic villagers of Jeronisht. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Villagers of Jeronisht gather around Father Martin Ritsi, an orthodox priest from Orange County who move to the Balkan Nation three years ago to help make a difference in their lives. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 In the isolated, mountainous village of Jeronisht, the materials are funded by Diaconia Agapes, but the villagers do the work themselves on the water project. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Spiro Piligriu unloads rocks to Sana Piligriu for the water project that Father Martin Ritsi brought to the area of Jeronisht. Three years after the election of a democratic government, this nation remains Europe's poorest. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Blacksmith Tomorr Halili works in his newly opened forge where he uses a primitive furnace, a sledgehammer, an anvil and other simple tools to repair his neighbors' farm equipment. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Father Martin Ritsi walks up a narrow mountain road in Gjnir, a region of small, poor villages in the mountains east of the industrial city of Elbasan. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
 Father Martin Ritsi, illumated by the glow of a setting sun, looks out into the valley on the outskirts of Gjnir, in this time-stood-still land, the poorest nation of Europe. ©Gail Fisher Los Angeles Times
prev / next