Fifty-three years ago, Reverend Ernest Simoni was arrested because he was guilty. His crime? Celebrating the Holy Mass in his native country of Albania, which was under the regime of Communism.
Today, Simoni is one of the seventeen men who Pope Francis has appointed to the level of Cardinal within the Catholic Church.
Simoni and Pope Francis first met back in 2014. After the meeting, the Pope told news sources, “To hear a martyr talk about his own martyrdom is intense.” After watching two of his Franciscan superiors be shot to death, Simoni was asked by the Albanian Communist regime if he would reject the Catholic faith. When Simoni refused to renounce his faith, he was threatened by a firing squad. Yet they didn’t kill him. He was instead sentenced to 28 years of hard labor, which included work in the mines of Albania.
Yet even under horrible conditions, Simoni continued to practice his Catholic faith and the sacraments as a Catholic priest. During his imprisonment, he heard the confessions of his fellow prisoners and even offered Mass for them.
Simoni told Pope Francis, “Your Holiness, with the certainty that I am expressing the intentions of those present, I pray through the intercession of the most holy Mother of Christ, that the Lord grant you life, health and strength in guiding the great flock that is the Church of Christ, Amen.”