(Vatican Radio) As Pope Francis is set to visit Albania's capital Tirana we bring you the witness of Father Anton Luli who survived persecution in this nation under the atheistic regime. Born in Albania in the year 1910, Fr.Luli shared these memories on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s ordination to the priesthood:
Listen to a translation of the words of Jesuit Father Anton Luli read for us by Christopher Altieri, as well as to clips of the voice of Father Anton Luli SJ in a recording from our Vatican Radio sound archive :
Please find below excerpts from Jesuit Father Anton Luli's witness:
I had just been ordained priest when in my country Albania the communist dictatorship came to power bringing with it the fiercest religious persecution. Some of my brothers in faith, following a trial which was full of falsehood and deceit were executed and died martyrs to the faith. They celebrated in this manner, as broken bread and blood their last personal Eucharist, were executed by a firing squad and died martyrs to their faith. It was 1946
Instead the Lord asked me to live, opening my arms and leaving me nailed to a cross, celebrating in this way the priestly ministry denied to me and in the life spent in chains and torture of every sort, my Eucharist, my priestly offering.
I was arrested on the 19th December 1947 with the accusation of action and propaganda against the government. I was imprisoned for 17 years and spent many other years in forced labour. My first prison was a lavatory located in a mountain village near Scutari. It was the month of December and freezing. I stayed there for nine months forced to squat over hardened feces and without ever being able to lie down given the lack of space.
On Christmas eve of that year ( how could I forget? ) they moved me from there and took me to another lavatory on the second floor, made me undress and hung me from a cord passing under my arm pits. I was naked and could touch the ground only with the tips of my toes. I could feel my body give way slowly, relentlessly. The cold slowly rose from my body and when it was about to reach my heart I let out a desperate cry.
My jailors came at once, took me down and kicked me around all over my body. That night, in that place and in the solitude of my first agony, I witnessed the real sense of the Incarnation and of the Cross. All through my suffering I felt near me and within me the comforting presence of Our Lord Jesus. I cannot but call it ‘extraordinary’, such was the joy and consolation that He communicated to me.
But I have never felt any rancour for those who, humanly speaking, stole my life from me. After being freed one day by chance I met one of my torturers in the street. I felt compassion and expressed it by going towards him and hugging him.
They freed me during the Amnesty of 1989. I was seventy nine years old.
That was my experience as a priest during those years. Certainly a rather special experience compared to that of most priests, but by no means unique as thousands of priests have undergone persecution during their lives because of their priesthood in Christ. Different experiences but all united by love. A priest is first and foremost one who has known love, a priest lives to love, to love Christ and love everyone in Him, in every situation in life , even when it means giving one’s life for Him.
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