Rome-based Catholic news agency Zenit carries a story datelined Tirana, 22 September, PopeWeeps Upon Hearing Witness of Religious Persecution in Albania. The article reports: Fr Ernesto Simoni Troshani, an 84-year-old diocesan priest, recalled when the Communist party came to power and began detaining and murdering priests, some he said who died saying 'Long live Christ the King'. He also said that his diocesan superiors were killed by firing squad . . . After his witness, Fr. Troshani approached the Holy Father and knelt, kissing his ring. The Pope, visibly moved by his testimony, wept and held the priest in a long embrace.
Sr Maria Kaleta, an Albanian, spoke of extremely difficult decisions that Christians sometime had to make. She recounted how a woman from a communist family asked her about seeking baptism for her child. Sr Kaleta said she feared that it was a trap but nonetheless, brought some water and baptized the child. During that period, she remembered her desire to go to Mass, to receive the Sacraments.
Original fresco of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Genazzano, Italy [Wikipedia]
Our Lady of Good Counsel is the Patron of Albania. It was a copy of the fresco above that the bishops of the country gave to Pope Francis as a gift.
In his homily at Mass in Mother Teresa Square, Tirana, on Sunday Pope Francis said [emphasis added]:
Recalling the decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, we can say that Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, laity, and clerics and ministers of other religions paid for their fidelity with their lives. Demonstrations of great courage and constancy in the profession of the faith are not lacking. How many Christians did not succumb when threatened, but persevered without wavering on the path they had undertaken!
I stand spiritually at that wall of the cemetery of Scutari, a symbolic place of the martyrdom of Catholics before the firing squads, and with profound emotion I place the flower of my prayer and of my grateful and undying remembrance. The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel, as we heard in the First Reading. The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.
National Flag of Albania [Wikipedia]
The readings used at the Mass were not those of the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A but Exodus 19:3, 4b-6a, 7-8, Romans 15:14-21 and Luke 10: 1-9, 17-20. In the reading from Exodus God reminds Moses how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. The eagle is a national symbol of Albania and Pope Francis referred to this in his homily:
The Lord was close to you, dear brothers and sisters, to sustain you; he led you and consoled you and in the end he has raised you up on eagle’s wings as he did for the ancient people of Israel, as we heard in the First Reading. The eagle, depicted on your nation’s flag, calls to mind hope, and the need to always place your trust in God, who does not lead us astray and who is ever at our side, especially in moments of difficulty.
The Pope calls on young Albanians to be like the seventy-two disciples in the Gospel and, rooted in the memory of their own experience, to be missionaries to the rest of Europe:
Today, I have come to thank you for your witness and also to encourage you to cultivate hope among yourselves and within your hearts. Never forget the eagle! The eagle does not forget its nest, but flies into the heights. All of you, fly into the heights! Go high! I have also come to involve the young generations; to nourish you assiduously on the Word of God, opening your hearts to Christ, to the Gospel, to an encounter with God, to an encounter with one another, as you are already doing and by which you witness to the whole of Europe.
And St Paul says in the Second Reading: