27 Apr The Franciscan Martyrs of Albania
PROMULGATION OF DECREES
On 26 April 2016, the Holy Father Pope Francis gave a private audience to His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. During the course of the audience the Pope authorized the Congregation to promulgate decrees regarding:
The martyrdom of the Servants of God, Msgr. Vincenç Prennushi, OFM, Archbishop of Durres and Primate of Albania, and his 37 companions, killed in Albania out of hatred of the faith between 1945-1974.
The heroic virtues of the Servant of God, Sosio Del Prete, a professed priest of the Order of Friars Minor, founder of the Little Servants of Christ the King, who was born on December 28th, 1885 in Frattamaggiore, in the Diocese of Aversa, Province of Naples, and who died in Naples on January 28th, 1952.
The heroic virtues of the servant of God, Ilia Corsaro, a member of the Franciscan Third Order, and foundress of the Little Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, who was born in Herculaneum, in the Archdiocese of Naples, on October 4th, 1897, and who died in Bagnoli, in the Diocese of Pozzuoli on March 23rd,1977.
The Franciscan Martyrs of Albania
In the second half of the twentieth century, Albania became one of the communist states most vehemently opposed to recognizing human religious experience, and in particular Catholicism. In 1967 it proclaimed itself as the first atheist state in the world. The persecution triggered by this false ideology affected every kind of believer; clergy, religious, and laity – young and old, from different social and cultural backgrounds. Believers were savagely killed, humiliated in sham public trials, accused of fictional conspiracies, all in order to eliminate the Most Holy Name of God from the nation. Many of the bodies of those who were killed were also mutilated after death; buried under rubbish, thrown to dogs, flung into mass graves. Among this vast array of victims are 38 witnesses to the Catholic faith, belonging to various dioceses, who were martyred between 1945 and 1974. These include 2 bishops, 21 diocesan priests, 7 Friars Minor, 3 Jesuits, 4 Laypeople and 1 Seminarian.
The Order of Friars Minor is honored to claim eight of this group, who are soon to be beatified. Firstly, their leader, Mons. Vincenç Prennushi, OFM, Archbishop of Shkodra (Scutari), Primate of Albania, who was born in 1885, served twice as Provincial Minister, and who died on March 19th, 1949 in Durres prison because of the ill-treatment he was given. In the chronological order of their martyrdom we also have:
Fr. Gjon Shllaku, OFM, priest, born in 1907, sentenced to be shot in Shkodra on March 4th, 1946;
Fr. Bernardin Palaj, OFM, priest, born in 1894, died in prison in Shkodra on December 2nd, 1946 ex aerumnis carceris;
Fr. Serafin Koda, OFM, priest, born in 1893, died from torture wounds in Lezhë on May 11th, 1947;
Fr. Ciprian Nika, OFM, priest, born in 1900, shot in Shkodra on March 11th, 1948;
Fr. Mati Prendushi, OFM, priest, born in 1881, and shot in Shkodra on March 11th, 1948;
Fr. Gasper Suma, OFM, born in 1897, died on April 16th, 1950 in Shkodra, because of torture and lack of care;
Fr. Karl Serreqi, OFM, priest, born in 1911, died April 4th, 1954 in Burrel, because of ill-treatment and lack of care;
The only woman in the group is also a member of the Franciscan family; Marije Tuci, a laywoman, was an aspirant to the Religious Life of the Franciscan Sisters of the Stigmata. She was born in 1928, and died in Shkodra on October 24th, 1950, having been tortured.
All these Servants of God accepted their unjust condemnation in an exemplary way. They suffered in a spirit of patience, and with strong and authentic faith. At the moment of death, they spoke words of forgiveness for their persecutors, and entrusted themselves and their oppressed country to God. This terrible situation for Albanian Catholics came to an end with the dissolution of the communist regime. On November 4th, 1990, a celebration of Mass at the Catholic cemetery in Shkodra marked the resumption of public celebration of the Catholic faith. Soon the Church in Albania felt the need to cherish the memory of so much suffering, remembering these examples of fidelity and witness to the Gospel. Because of the fact that the leader of the group, as well as a good number of the martyrs, were members of the Order of Friars Minor, the Cause was entrusted to the Postulator General of the Order, Br. Luca M. De Rosa OFM, on April 25th, 2002.
From November 10th, 2001 to December 8th, 2010, a diocesan enquiry super adserto martyrio regarding the 38 Servants of God was held at the Diocesan Curia of Shkodra. This enquiry was unique in the quantity of sworn depositions – numbering 452 – the validity of which were recognized by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in a Decree dated March 9th, 2012. Upon completion of the Positio, the Conference of Theologians was held on December 17th, 2015, and on April 19th, 2016, the Ordinary Session of Cardinals and Bishops was convened.