WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — A priest who was shot for baptizing a child and a religious novice who died after she was tortured in a sack are among 38 Albanians to be beatified as martyrs Nov. 5, doubling the number of Catholics declared blessed from communist rule in Eastern Europe.
“Martyr beatifications send many messages, and the most important at this historical moment is of unshakeable trust in God,” said Archbishop Angelo Massafra of Shkoder, president of the Albanian bishops’ conference.
“We still hear their prophetic cry — ‘Viva Christ the King! Viva Albania!’ — and know Christ is glorified by the power of their witness, even when Albanians have regained freedom and can breathe the air of true democracy.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service, the archbishop said the planned ceremony had garnered “great interest” among Catholics who, until 1991, were officially barred from practicing the faith, but it was also viewed as a “national event for all Albania.”
“The world will be made more aware of the fierce persecution suffered by believers during the communist dictatorship,” Archbishop Massafra said.
“Albanians are people of great talent and ability. They’ll see the importance of this event for their country’s much-needed civic development and draw incentives for the future from the courage shown by its children.”
Around 130 Catholic priests were executed or died through imprisonment, alongside thousands of lay Christians, under communist rule in Albania, which lasted from 1944 to 1991.
The martyrs include Archbishop Nikolle Vincenc Prennushi of Durres, who died of torture and exhaustion in 1949, two years into a 20-year hard labor as an “agent of foreign powers,” and Bishop Frano Gjini of Lezhe, who died in 1948 declaring his “spirit and heart are with the pope,” according to the execution record.
Among 20 diocesan priests, Father Shtjefen Kurti was sentenced and shot for “reactionary anti-state activities” in 1971 after secretly baptizing another convict’s child at a labor camp, while two other priests drowned in 1948 when their heads were forced down in a prison cesspit with rifle butts.
The list includes several foreign clergy, including one who was shot for giving last rites to a wounded fugitive.
Three lay Catholics are included among the 38, as was as a 22-year-old Franciscan novice, Sister Maria Tuci, who died in Shkoder’s civic hospital after being tied in a sack and tortured.
Archbishop Massafra said the list of martyrs had been agreed after church consultations in 1994 and 2000, but added that “many others” could also be declared blessed in future.
“Numerous cases have been documented and added to our narrative of the Christian presence in Albania,” he told CNS.
“All the material will be relevant in considering other beatification processes and will not allow our young generations to forget. The one merciful God knows how to give value to the tears shed by humanity.”
Catholics currently make up a tenth of Albania’s population of 2.9 million, according to a 2011 census, making them the second largest religious group after Muslims, many of whom also died under communist rule.