When Pope Francis visited Albania in 2014, he was brought to tears by a priest’s description of the two decades of imprisonment, torture, and forced labour he suffered for refusing to renounce his faith. AP/Crux tells his powerful story.
Last Sunday, Francis honoured Fr Ernest Troshani Simoni’s witness by naming him to the College of Cardinals.
Fr Troshani, who turns 88 later this month and uses his Troshani birthplace as one of his names, was one of 17 new cardinals named by Francis who will be formally elevated at a Vatican ceremony on November 19.
He is among four cardinals over the age of 80 who can’t vote in a conclave to elect a new pope, but were named to the Church’s most exclusive club because of their service.
For Albania’s tiny Church, the nomination was a deeply symbolic gesture acknowledging the suffering of Catholic clergy during the reign of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who banned religion in 1967.
“That is an homage to a cleric symbolising all Albania’s suffering clergy,” said Fr Gjergj Meta, a Church spokesman.
Fr Troshani recounted his life story to Francis during the Pope’s one-day visit to Tirana in 2014, a visit meant to highlight the interfaith harmony that exists among the majority Muslim nation of 3.2 million. It was the end of the day and Francis was meeting with priests and seminarians at the Tirana cathedral.
Fr Troshani recalled his arrest, after celebrating Christmas Mass on December 24, 1963, and being placed in isolation. He told of being condemned to death, but the sanction was commuted to 25 years of forced labour.
During his incarceration, he became the spiritual guide to many other prisoners, who then came to his defence when he was again sentenced to death, in 1973, after a revolt. He was spared because of their testimony.
Fr Troshani was freed in 1981, but had to continue preaching clandestinely until the communist regime fell in 1990.
Photo: Pope Francis embraces Franciscan Father Ernest Troshani Simoni during a visit to Tirana in September 2014 (CNS)