04 Nov Beatification of Eight Friars Minor
Scutari, 5 November 2016 – Amongst the thirty-eight Blessed martyrs of the Communist persecution in Albania (1945-1974), are numbered 8 religious of the Order of the Friars Minor: a bishop and seven priests. From 1944 for nearly 50 years the Albanian Catholic Church suffered harsh persecution at the hands of one of the fiercest Communist dictatorial regimes of the present age. During this period our martyrs were condemned to death, or died under torture or due to the harsh conditions of imprisonment. They accepted for love of Christ an unjust sentence: they welcomed suffering with a patient spirit and a heroic faith. At the moment of death they had words of forgiveness for their persecutors and trust in God, for themselves and for their tortured country.
Blessed Gjon Shllaku, priest OFM (1907-1946)
His martyrdom comes at the start of the persecution, as he was condemned to execution by firing squad together with six companions in March 1946.He made his solemn profession in 1928 and was ordained a priest in 1931. He was considered one of the greatest Albanian intellectuals of his time.
When, in December 1945, the seminary student, Mark Çuni, with Gjelosh Lulashi, Qerim Sadiku e Frano Mirakaj, all lay people, was arrested on the charge of wishing to start a resistance movement, it created the pretext to involve the Jesuits, Fr. Giovanni Fausti SJ, and Fr. Daniel Dajani SJ, as well as the Franciscans. To strike at these zealous religious, who were distinguished in the world of culture and who dedicated themselves to the formation of consciences, was the first step to reduce Catholicism in Albania to a religion of silence and the catacombs
Father Gjon Shllaku and his companions were put on trial in the “Rozafa” cinema in Scutari and condemned to death by shooting on 4th March 1946, at the cemetery in the town. The night before the execution the condemned were heard praying and singing at the top of their voices, up to the time they left to be martyred whilst singing litanies to Our Lady. The bodies of the martyrs were never found.
Blessed Bernardin Palaj, priest OFM (1894-1946)
He made his solemn profession in 1917 and was ordained as a priest in 1918. He was a teacher and a parish priest. A prolific writer and man of culture he was arrested at the Rrubik friary whilst he was parish priest and guardian there on 22nd October 1946. In order to find a reason to charge him the police set up a scene whereby arms were discovered in the friary, hidden there unbeknownst to the friars by party members. He was brought to Scutari and imprisoned in the Gjuhadol friary which had been requisitioned and transformed into a prison. He had spent the finest years of his religious formation there, carried out his priestly ministry and his teaching duties. Subjected to inhuman torture he resisted for a total of forty days. He died tied to a tree in the friary, having contracted tetanus through contact with rusty iron which cut into his wrists. It was 2nd December 1946.
Blessed Serafin Koda, priest OFM (1893-1947)
Ordained a priest in 1915, he was a teacher, parish priest, Definitor and Provincial Bursar. He was unjustly accused of conspiracy and of having organized a meeting with priests and other friars in the friary dedicated to the Annunciation in Lezhë on 12th October 1946. In fact it was a fraternal meeting on the occasion of his name-day, but they wished to portray it as a meeting to set up to found a Christian Democratic party. On the same pretext they arrested subsequently others who had participated at the reunion: Mons, Frano Gjini, Bishop, and Father Mati Prendushi, OFM. Father Serafin was locked up in the stable of the friary, and died as a result of torture, without trial or charge against him, on 11th May 1947. He was buried in the friary garden at Lezhë, where his remains were rediscovered on 16th September 1994.
Blessed Ciprian Nika priest OFM (1900-1948)
He made his solemn profession in 1921 and was ordained a priest in Rome on 25th July 1924. A teacher, Master of the clerical students, Master of the novices, Provincial Minister, Director of the Franciscan college, and from 1944 Guardian of Gjuhadol friary. He was arrested in Scutari on 8th November 1946, falsely accused of having hidden arms in the church which the Communists themselves had planted.
He was shot on 11th March 1948 together with 16 other persons at the cemetery of Rémaj and abandoned there. He had gone to his execution reciting the rosary in a loud voice and concluding with the Te Deum laudamus. His last words were: “Long live Christ the King and we forgive our enemies”.
Blessed Mati Prendushi, priest OFM (1881-1948)
He is associated with the martyrdom of his fellow friar Fr. Ciprian Nika, in respect of the charge of arms being found in the church of the friars at Scutari and their shooting on 11th March 1948. A parish priest, Guardian, Definitor, Vicar and at the time of his arrest Provincial Minister. Upon hearing the sentence of death being pronounced he went to embrace the person who had accused him telling him, “I am praying with all my heart for all the lies you have told against me and others. I will pray the Lord to have mercy upon you and to forgive you, as I am forgiving you!” His body was never found.
Blessed Vinçenc Prennushi OFM, Archbishop of Durazzo (1885-1949)
He was the leader of the band of martyrs by reason of his ecclesiastical dignity as the Primate of Albania (1946). Twice Provincial Minister, from 1929 to 1935, he was elected Bishop of Sappa and consecrated in the cathedral in Scutari on 19th March 1936. He was transferred to archbishopric of Durazzo and from 1943 was the Apostolic Administrator of Southern Albania. Monsignor Prennushi represented the highest authority of the Catholic Church in Albania. His capture and condemnation was essential to the Communist regime’s strategy to attack Catholicism. The dictator had asked the bishops to create a national church separating it from the Holy See, to which he had received a blunt refusal.
Arrested and imprisoned in Durazzo on 19th May 1947, he was condemned to twenty years detention. The serenity with which he faced up to the punishment was manifest in his continuing exercise of charity even within the restrictions of imprisonment. He died on 19th March 1949 of a heart attack, caused by the maltreatment, tortures and fatigue to which he was subjected. He is buried in the Cathedral of Durazzo.
Blessed Gaspër Suma, priest OFM (1897-1950)
He made his solemn profession in 1919. He was ordained as a priest in Genoa in 1921, and arrested on 24th May 1948 at Gomsique where he was parish priest. He was then brought to Scutari and detained in the Gjudadol friary, of which he had been Guardian, and which in the meantime had been turned into a prison. Here he was questioned at length and tortured. The harsh prison regime and lack of medical attention aggravated his precarious health situation, already weakened by cancer, meant the he died suffering greatly on 16th April 1950
His tomb is venerated at the church of St. Francis in Scutari.
Blessed Karl Serreqi, priest OFM (1911-1954)
He made his solemn profession in 1932, receiving his ordination to the priesthood in Torricchio di Pescia (Italia) on 29th June 1936. He was arrested the full exercise of his pastoral ministry for not wanting to reveal the content of the confession of a man which was made just before his death, which occurred as a result of being wounded in a shootout with the Communist police. For this Fr. Karl was subjected to terrible torture and was sentenced to life imprisonment and forced labour. He received the sentence in a completely serene fashion, saying: “In my heart I experienced the great joy of being able to die for Christ”. He died in Burrel prison, because of his maltreatment on 4th April 1954. His grave was never discovered.
Blessed Marije Tuci, (1928-1950)
The only woman of the group was linked to the Franciscan family. She was for a short time a teacher. On 11th August 1949 she was arrested as an aspirant to religious life with the Franciscan Sisters of the Stigmata. She was sentenced to a 3 years suspended sentence. She died in the hospital of the prison in Scutari on 24th October 1950 due to the ill treatment received, and also for rebuffing the advances of her torturer. Amongst the tortures she suffered was being closed in a bag with an enraged cat, whose scratching resulted in her contracting blood poisoning. The martyrdom was ascribed also to her wish to defend her purity, and from the persecutor’s point of view, scorn for the life of a woman who had decided to consecrate her virginity to the Lord.