Shkodër, Albania, Nov 2, 2016 / 05:01 am
During 40 years of communist rule in Albania – which in 1967 declared itself the first completely atheist country in the world – praying, making the sign of the cross, wearing a crucifix around one’s neck, or any other evidence of being a believer in God were treated as crimes.
Churches, mosques and other places of worship were used as shopping centers, sports halls, or theaters. That too was the fate of the cathedral of Shkodër, which was turned into a sports arena. But on Nov. 5, it will the site of the beatification of 38 Albanian martyrs.
“Before they were tortured and executed by firing squad, they all said: ‘Long live Christ the King, long live Albania. We forgive those who kill us’,” Archbishop Angelo Massafra of Shkodër told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. Among the martyrs were a number of bishops, priests, and ordinary faithful, including one woman, María Tuci.
María was a teacher and she was condemned to die for the crime of reminding students of the presence of Christ. Her death was excruciating, after she had already been arrested and tortured countless times. She was finally put in a sack along with a cat. The torturers repeatedly hit the cat with a stick and their victim later died of the injuries inflicted by the terrified animal.
Father Lazer Shantoja was tortured so severely in the environs of Tirana that his own mother begged that he be shot to death to finally put an end to his suffering.
Ndre Zadeja was the first to be executed by firing squad; he was the first martyr of the Albanian communist dictatorship that finally collapsed in 1991. He died in Shkoder.
Archbishop Massafra, who serves as president of the Albanian bishops’ conference, said that all who were murdered in that city were forced to walk along a particular route that ended at the cemetery wall. There they were “tortured, spat upon, and finally executed by shooting.” The route led them past the cathedral.
“This was done on purpose. It was to remind them that they were suffering because of their love for Christ,” the bishop said.