Friday, January 8, 2010

Girl beats boys to pluck cross from water

TIRANA (Reuters) - A 16-year-old Albanian girl broke with tradition by retrieving a cross from the bottom of a wintry Ionian Sea ahead of a dozen boys and men diving for it as part of a male-only Orthodox ceremony.

Katerina Munguli plunged several meters to pick up the metal cross on Wednesday to the surprise and delight of the crowd and the priests near the pier of Kakome Bay, which faces Greece's holiday island of Corfu, an official said.

"It was a cold day and she competed with several boys and men. The cross was metallic and it went down to the bottom, quite several meters down," Vladimir Kumi, the chairman of the local council, who co-organized the ceremony, said by telephone.

"We were all happy a girl got it. She is the youngest of four sisters and behaves a bit like a boy," he added.

The council awarded her a prize of 10,000 leks (80 euros) and the priests gave her an extra prize, Kumi said.

Diving for the cross is done in several Orthodox countries to mark Theophany, also known as Epiphany, a Christian feast day in January. In Greece, women began to take part several years ago, but in Albania, Munguli was the first female reported to have joined in.

Religious practice was banned by Albania's communist regime in 1967 and allowed again in 1990 after communism was toppled. Major religious ceremonies are now popular among Albanians, who are mainly Muslim, although regular worship is less common.

In Albanian cities, traditional gender roles are changing, but in the countryside women are largely confined to domestic tasks.

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