INTERNATIONAL NEWS - From Christianity and Islam to animal sacrifices and pagan charms, Albanians have all their spiritual bases covered when crisis hits.
At the sprawling mountain-top church of St Anthony, atheists, Muslims and Christians are all streaming in to seek comfort - perhaps even a miracle - to survive the coronavirus pandemic and other ailments.
The Franciscan church, which overlooks the town of Lac in the northwest, has been attracting pilgrims for centuries in a country where the boundaries between faiths are porous.
But more people than ever are now flocking to this holy site where God is the "same" for all, according to Aferdita Onuzi, an anthropologist at the University of Tirana.
"They come here to relieve themselves of the fear of the unknown and the feeling of powerlessness in the face of the pandemic that seems to spare no one," she told AFP.
"All believe in a miracle that could change their lives."
Many visitors light candles, leave clothes of a sick child in the hope of a cure or lay photos of loved ones to bring them good luck.
Everyone wants solutions to their ills "and to get rid of their fear in the face of the pandemic", said the Franciscan church's priest Mirash Ivanaj.
Even those who have recovered from Covid-19 come "to find spiritual healing and to feel stronger against insecurity", he said.
Many Albanians see all routes as worth a try to relieve stress, especially during crises like the current one, which has pushed the health system to the brink and unleashed catastrophic damage to the economy.
Ada Zdrava, a 20-year-old pilgrim visiting for the first time, said she was hoping to "relieve her anxieties" and to promote "her happiness and that of her family".
Albanians lived almost half a century under a communist dictatorship that imposed atheism and outlawed religion.
But three decades after the fall of the dictatorship, Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox communities are back in the open, with some even joining in on each others' holy days.
In the village of Valias near Tirana, the "tekke" - or place of worship - of the Bektashi, a mystical branch of Sufism, attracts believers of all faiths.
Many leave a garment overnight on a tomb inside, "so that it keeps away illness and brings wellbeing to the one who wears it", said the site's 60-year-old caretaker, Servete Mullai.
Albana Disha, 50, recently came to sacrifice a cockerel to relieve her son's heartbreak, a practice rooted in pagan traditions that consider poultry an ideal offering for the gods because of its good taste.
Albanians "believe in the power of the sun, the power of stones, the sea, nature", explains Alfred Halilaj, an anthropologist at the University of Durres.
"Because in its essence, our culture comes from paganism, which remains the foundation of identity and daily life, despite the superimposition of religious conversions," he says.
"The anguish and fear that this pandemic has caused, has pushed people to return to beliefs or different imaginations in an effort to find a spiritual cure, but without excluding in any case the existence of hospitals and the role of medicine."
Driving through the country it is common to see wind-beaten teddy bears hanging on the front of homes in the belief that they will ward off the "evil eye" of jealous neighbours.
Other lucky charms also abound, such as the garlic bulb that 73-year-old Ramzan Sefaj keeps in his car to fend off misfortune.
"Fear makes us believe more in God but also makes us cling to small objects against bad luck and the evil eye," explained the retiree, who lives in the Tirana suburbs and survives from the income of his seven children who work in construction abroad.
The frenzy for alternative cures has intensified thanks to a wealth of misinformation online, notes Lutfi Dervishi, a communications expert at the University of Tirana.
People often turn to advice found on the internet and find "a little spiritual calm in beliefs", he told AFP.
But even spiritual leaders insist that modern medicine is essential.
"Under no circumstances should the doctor be neglected," said Mullai from the Bektashi tekke.