Albanian capital set to welcome Pope
(Vatican Radio) Every country that welcomes the Pope lines its streets with flags, trying to make a good impression. What’s striking about arriving in Tirana is not the papal and national flags, but the huge banners bearing the images of 40 Albanian martyrs.
Listen to the report by Christopher Wells:
The cause for the canonization of these Servants of God was officially opened at the diocesan level in 2002 by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, then Prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Ten years after the fall of communism in Albania, the cardinal, dedicating the new Cathedral in Tirana, called to mind the sacrifices of so many martyrs for the faith.
“Here, bishops, priests, nuns and a whole host of lay people, including the very feeble, were massacred,” Cardinal Sepe said, “and this happened not centuries ago, but only a few years ago.”
Luigj Paliq, a Franciscan priest, was killed in 1913; Father Gjon Gazulli, in 1927. The others were put to death during the long years of oppression under the atheistic communist dictatorship. When their cause was opened in 2002, the auxiliary bishop of Tirana, Zef Simoni, said: “They all shed their blood for the love of the Lord Jesus and of their neighbour, pardoning their murderers with all their heart.”
The images along the Boulevard of National Martyrs are startling because they are pictures of real people. They are not holy cards, images of haloed saints, who hardly look real. They are photographs of priests and seminarians, religious, laymen and laywomen, who underwent horrible tortures and gave their lives in fidelity to Christ and His Church. The accounts of their martyrdom read like the stories of the saints during the worst persecutions of the pagan Roman empire.
Tens of thousands of Catholics suffered for the faith in Albania, especially during the years of communist rule. The 40 martyrs whose pictures line the boulevard leading to Mother Teresa Square, where Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Mass on Sunday, represent all those who kept the faith in the church of silence.
In the words of Cardinal Sepe, “The Church in Albania rightly takes its place in the golden book of the martyrology of the 20th century.”