(Vatican Radio) Albania's Catholic Church has welcomed Pope Francis decision to name a priest who suffered decades for his faith in Christ to the College of Cardinals. Ernest Troshani Simoni was one of 17 new cardinals named by the pope on Sunday.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report
For Albania's tiny Catholic Church the nomination of priest Troshani to the College of Cardinals is a a deeply symbolic gesture.
The Church said it acknowledged the suffering of Catholic clergy in Albania during the reign of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who banned religion in 1967.
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 Pope Francis who will be formally elevated at a Vatican ceremony on November 19. He is among four cardinals over age 80 who can't vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. But they were named to the group because of their service to the church.
An Albanian church spokesman even called it "an homage to a cleric symbolizing all Albania's suffering clergy."
When Pope Francis visited Albania in 2014, he was brought to tears by priest Troshani's
of the two decades of imprisonment, torture and forced labor he
suffered under Albania's Communist rulers for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith.
Troshani recounted his life story to Francis during the pope's one-day visit to Tirana on September 21, 2014, meant to highlight interfaith harmony that exists among the majority Muslim nation of more than 3 million people.
Speaking at the Tirana cathedral, 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 labor.
During his incarceration, he became the spiritual guide to many other prisoners, who then came to his defense when he was again sentenced to death in 1973 after a revolt. He was spared because of their testimony.
Troshani was freed in 1981 but had to continue preaching clandestinely until the communist regime fell in 1990.
As Troshani recounted his ordeal, Pope Francis - who was reading along an Italian translation of his remarks - became visibly moved. When he finished, Troshani knelt before the pope. They later embraced for nearly a minute to the applause of the priests and nuns in the audience
"Today I touched martyrs," Pope Francis said at the time.
Troshani will be elevated to cardinal two weeks after the Vatican honors 38 of his fellow believers who were persecuted or executed under Hoxha's regime.
The beatification ceremony is scheduled for November 5 in Shkoder, Albania, where
the first public Mass was held after the fall of communism.
The Albanian church said Troshani's elevation was a sign of the pope's "honor and gratitude" on the eve of the beatification.
It added that ""Elevating the Albanian clergy persecuted during communism is a sign of how much this clergy has given to the universal Catholic Church with their martyrs."
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