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Albanian Bishop Recalls an Era of Agonies

Zef Simoni Attended General Audience

ROME, SEPT. 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- When Bishop Zef Simoni arrived in St. Peter’s Square last Wednesday for the general audience with Benedict XVI, he said he was coming “to see Peter … the Rock.”

It was the rock of his faith that he clung to many times in his lifetime. The now-retired auxiliary bishop of Shkoder, Albania, had suffered for many years under his country’s Communist regime.

When Albania became Communist in 1944, the country had 200 priests. More than 70 were imprisoned. Eight were tortured to death, and two died after being tortured. Four were killed without a trial and 19 died in concentration camps.

Bishop Simoni, 77, is one of the living survivors of the period.

“I was confined for 12 years in the Spac camp, a prison that could be compared to the Mauthausen Nazi camp,” said the prelate, who is a writer. “It was near a mining area in which the inmates were subjected to incessant, dangerous work. In fact, many died.”

As he was not able to write in prison, Bishop Simoni used to memorize long passages from his works which he would then recite to the other inmates.

Tortures

The tortures witnessed are engraved in the Albanian bishop’s memory.

“The prisoners were subjected to electric shocks,” he recalled. “They had to walk barefoot on white-hot metal sheets.”

Torture of the prisoners by the Communists took many forms.

“They would fill their mouths with salt and force them to swallow medication that was harmful to their nervous system,” Bishop Simoni told an interviewer. “I remember that the Jesuit priest Gjon Karma was buried alive in a coffin.

“Franciscan Frano Kiri was tied to a corpse for several days until the liquids began to come out of the dead person. Others were hanged, decapitated or drowned in quagmires.”

“With God’s help we just tried to be faithful to Christ, to the Church and to our priestly mission,” the bishop explained.

Sisterly help

Bishop Simoni was accompanied last Wednesday to St. Peter’s Square by his sister and a brother, a priest.

“My sister Cecilia,” he said, “helped us when we were in prison. She was also able to live her faith heroically in those dark years.

“Today we present to the Pope, in the heart, so many brothers who were massacred, so many women religious and so many lay persons who were persecuted but did not deny the Cross.”

Zef Simoni was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in April 1993.

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