Mehr Licht! (More light!). Those were the last words of the Archbishop of Durres (Durazzo) Vincenc Prennushi, imprisoned and martyred for having refused to establish a new national Albanian Church, separate from the Holy See.
He died on March 19, 1949. Today his remains are kept in Saint Lucia co-cathedral in Durres, where he served as archbishop from 1940 to 1949. Prennushi died in prison, laid down on the damp cold earth, with bare feet, just like St. Francis, of whom he was a son. He died invoking the light, that same light he enjoys in the heavens.
Vincenc Prennushi is the first on the list of Albanian martyrs to be beatified soon. In fact, Pope Francis has authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree concerning their martyrdom. The Albanian Church is deeply grateful to the Holy See for this gift, which adds on to the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa (September 4), a daughter of our land. Msgr. Prennushi and his 37 companions were killed between 1945 and 1974, each one of them with their story, a terrible story of suffering, and of courageous witness.
Thirty-eight names that speak out…
The beatification list includes the names of two parish priests of the then Saint Lucia Cathedral, Father Anton Zogaj, shot near Durres and buried in a yet unknown site, and Monsignor Jul Bonati, locked up in a mental hospital in the last years of imprisonment.
There are also the names of some lay people: Fran Mirakaj, Qerim Sadiku, the seminarian Mark Ccuni and the only woman, Marie Tuci, an aspirant to the Religious Life of the Franciscan Sisters of the Stigmata, killed in an atrocious way: after having been stripped naked she was closed inside in a sack with a cat, that clawed her body to death.
In the past years I have often heard the personal testimony of those who met the martyrs in person. In Durres many still cherish the memory of Monsignor Prennushi. Old people remember that the Catholic bishop enjoyed walking along the streets of the then Durrws (Durres) with the Orthodox priest, pope Erasmus, and with the Imam of the city Mustafa Varoshi. Many of them remember in particular the kindness of bishop Vincenc. The letters to his priests reflect his thoughtful solicitude and his pastoral care. He frequently visited the parishes in the diocese of which he was a shepherd – the most ancient diocese in Albania – and in a fatherly way he used to stand near all the faithful. Indeed … a figure, together with 37 other martyrs, to be cherished in the heart of our land, bathed in their blood.
To be cherished and brought to life by all Albanians!
Faithful to Christ and to the Church! They are a guiding light; a role model for all of us. In their ordeals, the Lord is always near His people.
The Plenary Meeting of the Albanian Bishops’ Conference (CEA), to be held in a few days, will probably decide on the date of the ceremony that will take place in Albania. Mehr Licht! (More light!)
(*) parish priest, Saint Lucia Co-cathedral, Durres