Pope Francis visited Albania last September

The manager of a furniture factory in Albania, who made a chair for the Pope’s visit to his country last September, is refusing to sell the piece of furniture.

The chair, on display at Tonin Alia’s furniture factory, is made of wood with upholstered yellow velvet, and is one of several which accommodated Pope Francis on his one-day trip last year to the Balkan nation.

The chair is not for sale, even to the most tenacious of costumers.

“The priests are asking and asking for it,” said Alia, who manufactured the chair and an additional 1,500 others for general use during last September’s papal visit at the behest of the local Catholic Church.

“I won’t give it,” the furniture maker told the Catholic News Service.

Alia noted a steady rise in business and blessings which he said had begun with his “contribution” of the seats toward the event and had increased even more when he put the chair the Pope sat in on display at his factory in the Albanian capital.

“I think it is linked. A lot has changed. We have more sales, and more visitors, as well as a lot of government officials and ambassadors,” he said in his office.

“I feel honoured and I feel blessed,” Alia said with a grin, noting that the chair possessed other qualities as well.

“It has positive energy,” said Alia, a 59-year-old Catholic from Albania’s minority Christian community.

He recounted that thousands of Albanians, Muslims and Christian had lined Tirana’s main boulevard to welcome the pontiff on what was Pope Francis’ first visit to a European nation and his first to a predominantly Muslim country.

During the visit, Pope Francis paid tribute to church members who had suffered persecution under the country’s former militantly-atheistic regime that targeted people of every faith between 1944 and 1991.

Alia said he regretted that his now-deceased grandfather-the man he most credited with keeping Catholicism alive in the Alia home the despite the grave risks involved-had not been around to witness the Pope’s visit.

“My grandfather was very religious (and) would pray every morning and do the same in the evening, especially during Easter time,” Alia recalled.

He said his family had always been made up of staunch Catholics despite what many considered a typically Muslim family name.

Because the family lived at the time in Albania’s isolated, mountainous region of Puke, prayer and other outlawed religious activities had been easier to hide from the government authorities.

“All the prayers had to be in silent, under the roof. Grandfather also listened to Vatican Radio, in secret. He would wake up at 5 to listen to Vatican Radio which gave news in Albanian … and I would listen too,” Alia said.

“We changed our (family) name to Alia in the 1800s to avoid persecution but remained always Catholic,” he said, alluding to nearly five centuries of Ottoman occupation of Albania from 1431 to 1912 that led many Albanians to convert from Christianity to Islam.

While Alia seemed a bit disappointed that he did not personally meet Pope Francis during the visit, he insisted that “the biggest privilege (was) to make the chair that he sat on.”

“It was very emotional,” he said. “I tell everyone about it.”