Thirty-eight martyrs killed between 1945 and 1974 by the Communist regime were beatified Saturday in the city of Shkodër in northwestern Albania.
The ceremony took place in the Square of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and was presided over by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Pope Francis referred to the beatification during his Angelus address on Sunday, saying the martyrs “preferred to suffer imprisonment, torture and eventually death, in order to remain faithful to Christ and the Church.”
“Their example,” he said, “helps us find strength in the Lord that supports us in times of trouble and inspires acts of kindness, forgiveness and peace.”
In the beatification homily, Cardinal Amato referred to how persecutions end, but the witness of the martyrs endures.
“While the persecutors dissolve like so many black shadows which are lost forever in the darkness of eternal oblivion,” he said, “martyrs are guiding lights that shine in the sky of humanity, showing the true face of man’s goodness, his profound identity created in the image of God.”
Vatican Radio offered a summary of the testimonies of some of the martyrs:
Father Anton Zogaj was shot on a beach near Durres after refusing to divulge confessional secrets.
Father Lazer Shantoja, a nationally admired poet, was shot in the head after being forced to crawl in excruciating pain when his arms and legs were broken under torture.
Archbishop Nikolle Vincenc Prennushi of Durres, who died of torture and exhaustion in 1949, two years into a 20-year hard labor sentence as an “agent of foreign powers.”
Bishop Frano Gjini of Lezhe, who died in 1948 declaring his “spirit and heart are with the Pope,” according to the execution record.
Father Shtjefen Kurti was sentenced and shot for “reactionary anti-state activities” in 1971 after secretly baptizing another convict’s child at a labor camp.
Father Giovanni Fausti, Italian vice provincial of Albania’s Jesuit order, was beaten and spat at by communist onlookers during his trial and execution.
The list also features two priests drowned in 1948 when their heads were forced down in a prison cesspit with rifle butts; several foreign clergy, including one who was shot for giving last rites to a wounded fugitive; and three lay Catholics including 22-year-old Franciscan novice, Sister Maria Tuci, who died in Shkoder’s civic hospital after being tied in a sack and tortured.
Archbishop Angelo Massafra of Shkoder, President of the Albanian Bishops’ Conference, reportedly said the list of martyrs had been agreed upon after Church consultations in 1994 and 2000, but added that many others could also be declared blessed in the future.
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Around 130 Catholic priests were executed or died through imprisonment, alongside thousands of lay Christians, under Communist rule in Albania, which lasted from 1944 to 1991.
Catholics currently make up a tenth of Albania’s population of 2.9 million, according to a 2011 census, making them the second largest religious group after Muslims, many of whom also died under Communist rule.