SHKODËR, Albania, NOV. 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The diocesan phase of the canonical process of beatification of 40 martyrs in Albania began here last Sunday.
The event took place on the occasion of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe’s visit to Albania. Cardinal Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, ended the visit Tuesday.
After celebrating Mass in the cathedral, the cardinal initiated the diocesan process for the beatification of 40 Catholic martyrs who died between 1913 and 1990.
Among them was Father Luigj Paliq, killed in Kosovo in 1913, and Father Gjon Gazulli, hanged in the public square in 1927. The 38 others were put to death under the Communist regime in the years 1945-1990.
In a statement issued by the Fides missionary agency, Auxiliary Bishop Zef Simoni of Shkodër explained: “The opening of the canonical process for the beatification of the servants of God killed for the faith, is of utmost value and significance for Albania, because saints and martyrs are not only mediators between God and mankind, they are also models from which to draw inspiration in the work of giving a new face and a new future to this people who has suffered so much.”
Last Friday, in Tirana’s Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle, Cardinal Sepe reiterated “John Paul II’s ‘loving concern for Albania,'” and remembered the numerous martyrs of the faith.
“Here, bishops, priests, nuns and a whole host of lay people, including the very feeble, were massacred,” the cardinal said, “and this happened not centuries ago, but only a few years ago.”
“The Church in Albania rightly takes its place in the golden book of the martyrology of the 20th century,” he added.
Bishop Simoni said: “The Catholic clergy distinguished itself for its patriotism and culture. The dictatorship suggested to Father Mati Predushi” — porter of a Franciscan monastery at Gjuhadol — “that they separate from the Holy See in Rome and found a nationalist Church. They all courageously refused. The proposal was also put to Bishop Frano Gjini, apostolic delegate, who replied firmly: ‘I will never separate my flock from the Holy See.'”
Bishop Gjini was shot in 1948. None of the priests accepted the schism, and this led to the imprisonment of nearly 170 of them.
In his statement, Bishop Simoni also recounted the experience of martyrdom of those witnesses of the faith. Here are some examples of the torture they suffered.
–Father Benardin Palaj died of torture and tetanus at the Franciscan monastery which had become a prison for 700 men.
–Father Leké Sirdani and Father Pjetér Qum were drowned with their heads immersed in a sewer.
–Father Alfons Tracki and Father Zef Maksen, German priests, were shot.
–Father Serafín Koda breathed his last breath with his larynx pulled out of his throat. A Father Josif, a Catholic priest of Byzantine rite, was buried alive in a swamp at Maliq.
–When Father Mark Gjani was asked to deny Christ, his reply was: “Long live Christ the King.” He was killed and his body was thrown to the dogs.
–Father Mikel Beltoja was tortured during a trial behind closed doors. The police stabbed him with screwdrivers and he was shot a few days later.
On Feb. 6, 1967, the dictator Enver Hoxha started a kind of “Chinese Cultural Revolution.” The revolution was carried out with ferocity particularly against the Church. All churches and mosques were closed, and the Shkodër Cathedral was made into a sports hall.
The Franciscan church at Gjuhadol was made into a cinema. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Counsel near the Rozafa castle in Shkodër was destroyed. The Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Tirana became a cinema. Lezha church was closed on Easter Sunday 1967. St. Anthony’s shrine at La Kurbini was destroyed and a military camp built in its place. The little 13th-century church at La Vau i Dejés was blown up.
The other churches which were not destroyed, were turned into barns, culture halls, courts, stables or workshops. There were no priests to be seen. On July 10, 1968, an atheist exhibition was opened in Shkodër entitled “The Retrograde Role of the Faith.”
Persecution reached its climax in 1967, when Albania was proclaimed an atheist state. This continued until November 1990.
Lastly, the auxiliary bishop of Shkodër recalled that “this date was followed by other happy dates: a visit to Albania by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the opening of the apostolic nunciature in Tirana; the visit by Pope John Paul II; the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy; the opening of the interdiocesan seminary Our Lady of Good Counsel, and the arrival of many missionaries from our sister Churches.”