By Larry Peterson
When the Nazis fled Albania at the end of WW II, the communists took control of the small country. From 1945 through 1974, they ruled Albania with an iron hand banning religion, especially Catholicism. Many Catholics were brutally tortured and murdered during this period. What follows is about the 38 Martyrs of Albania who were beatified on November 5, 2016.
Father Ernest Simoni had just finished saying Christmas Mass in 1963. Suddenly and unexpectedly he was surrounded by police and arrested. He was shackled and charged with the crime of “saying Masses for John F. Kennedy,” the American president who had been assassinated the previous month in Dallas, Texas. His next stop would be in prison, where he would endure torture and forced labor for the next 18 years.
We move ahead to April of 2016. Pope Francis was holding a ceremony recognizing 38 people who had died in the dark, dank, and disgusting prisons of Albania. The group included mostly Albanians, some Italians, and one German. Included among them were two bishops, 21 diocesan priests, three Jesuits, seven Friars Minor, a Franciscan novice-nun, three Catholic laymen, and one seminarian. Most of them died between 1945 and 1950.
The only woman among them, Maria Tucci, was arrested on August 10, 1949. She refused to answer her captor’s questions and was tortured over and over until August 1950. She had been so brutalized over the previous year that she required hospitalization. She died from her injuries on October 24, 1950. She was 22 years old.
Not included among them was Father Simoni. He was standing before the Holy Father. He was 88 years old and holding a box which contained the bones of ten of his countrymen. They, too, had been imprisoned in Albania. Unlike Father Simoni, they had all been executed.
Pope Francis, was honoring Father Simoni’s faithfulness to Jesus and the faith by elevating him to the rank of Cardinal. The Pope wept as he hugged the new Cardinal saying, “Today I touched martyrs.”
Those who were present that day heard how the Albanian martyrs were tortured to death and then executed or just tortured over and over and sent to forced labor camps. The one constant among all these holy martyrs was that they were always praying to God and asking Him to forgive their killers.
Here are brief bios of the three Jesuits who were among the martyred:
- Giovanni Fausti: He was the oldest of twelve children born in Brescia, Italy, on October 19, 1899. He began his religious studies at the age of ten and was a classmate of Giovanni Montini, the future Pope St. Paul VI. After studying at the Pontifical Lombard College in Rome, he was ordained a priest on July 9, 1922. He entered the Society of Jesus on October 30, 1924. After serving in the Italian army, he entered the Pontifical Gregorian University and became a philosophy professor. He had been in Albania twice and was sent back in 1942. He was arrested by the communists on December 31, 1945. After being held for two months and tortured almost every day, he was shot dead on March 4, 1946.
- Daniel Dajani: Daniel was born in 1906, and, by the time he was twelve, he felt the calling to the priesthood. He studied hard and began his novitiate with the Jesuits on July 8, 1926. He received his teaching credentials and made his solemn profession of vows on February 2, 1942. Similar to Father Fausti, Father Daniel was arrested on December 31, 1945. He also was held for two months having to endure constant torture. And, just like Father Fausti, Father Dajani was executed on March 4, 1946.
- Gjon Pantalia: Gjon was born in Serbia in 1887 and was related to St. Teresa of Calcutta. He did not want to be a priest, so he joined the Jesuits as a Brother. He became a teacher specializing in chorus, theater, and socio-cultural activities. He also was a writer, composer, and a spiritual director to many of his students. He was called “Brother Cornerstone” of the College of Shkodra. He was arrested in 1946 and brutally tortured. He tried to escape from prison but broke his legs jumping from a window. He was captured and thrown back in his cell. Lack of treatment and constant, unbearable pain, took its toll. He died on October 31, 1947.
We ask all the Martyrs of Albania to pray for us.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2020