Tirana, Albania, Sep 21, 2014 / 14:31 pm
God's consolation for Albania's martyrs and other persecuted Christians is a reminder for us all of the intimate consolation that God offers amid suffering, Pope Francis said in unscripted remarks at a Sunday vespers service.
"The Lord consoled them because there were people in the Church, the people of God – the old ladies, holy and good, many cloistered sisters... who prayed for them. And this is the mystery of the Church: when the Church asks the Lord to console his people, the Lord consoles humbly, even clandestinely. He consoles in the intimacy of the heart and he consoles with strength."
"Woe to us if we seek another consolation" than in the Lord, the Pope said, diverting from his prepared text. "Woe to priests, religious, sisters, novices and the consecrated who seek consolation that is distant from the Lord!"
Albania lived under state-imposed atheism from 1967 to 1991, but priests and other religious leaders began to endure persecution when dictator Enver Hoxha took power in 1946.
The regime conducted a war against religions: almost 2,100 people, including Catholic priests and adherents of other religions, were brutally killed because of their religious beliefs.
Pope Francis spoke about the country's history of persecution at a Sep. 21 vespers service at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Albania's capital of Tirana.
He said he had been surprised to learn of the severity of Albania's suffering.
He recounted seeing the images of Albania's martyrs that lined his route from the airport to Mother Teresa Square. At the vesper service, the Pope also met an elderly priest and a nun persecuted under Albania's oppressive twentieth century atheist dictatorship.
"One sees that this people still has memory of their martyrs, of those who have suffered greatly! A people of martyrs," Pope Francis said.
"And today, I was touched by two of them."
The Pope noted the "simplicity" of the priest's and the nun's speech even though they told of "much suffering."
He suggested the reasons they could survive their tribulations could be found in the vesper service reading from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, which speaks of "the God of every consolation."
God still consoled the persecuted despite their physical and mental suffering and their fears of being sent to the firing squad, he said.
"Blessed be God the Father, God of every consolation, who consoles us in all of our trials, in order that we may console those who we find in every kind of affliction, with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God," the Pope said.
"We are sinners," the Pope said. But in the martyrs, "the Lord was with us."
"This is the way. Do not be discouraged!"
The Pope said that these martyrs have provided an example, but we must be an example for others. As we go home today, the Pope concluded, we might think: "Today we have touched the martyrs."