In Albania, communist partisans led by Enver Hoxha came to power after the Italian occupation ended in 1944; 1946 the People’s Republic was proclaimed. The obscure regime became – besides North Corea – the most brutal dictatorship worldwide, and in 1967 Hoxha declared the country as the first atheistic state on earth. Even after the dictator’s death in 1982 nothing got better until the system’s overthrow in 1990. In February 1947, Bishop Gjergj Volaj of Sapë was murdered by the regime, and on March 11, 1948 Bishop Frano Gjini of Lezhë was shot as martyr after having refused the establishment of a national church. Finally, Nikollë Vinçenc Prennushi, O. F. M., Archbishop of Durrës, died on March 19, 1949, as consequence of torture in prison.
At 1950s beginning, there was only one bishop left as follows:
1911 – 1956 Bernardin Shllaku, O. F. M., Bishop of Pult.
Secret Bishop Consecrations 1952 – 1956:
20.04.1952: Ernest Maria Çoba, Ap. Administrator of Shkodrë, by Bernardin Shllaku
20.04.1952: Pjetër Dema, Capitular Vicar of Durrës, by Bernardin Shllaku
25.04.1957: Antonin Fishta, Capitular Vicar of Pult, by Ernest Maria Çoba
25.03.1959: Nikollë Troshani, Ap. Administrator of Durrës and of Lezhë, presumely by Ernest Maria Çoba.
Martyr Bishop: Mgr. Antonin Fishta, O. F. M., of Pult
Additional consecrations obviously did not took place. Bishop Fishta died 1980 in prison, and bishop Coba was beaten to death by his guards also in 1980.
The first consecrations after the end of dictatorship Pope John Paul II personally celebrated on April 25, 1993, when he paid a visit to Albania:
Robert Ashta, O. F. M., Bishop of Pult
Frano Illia, Archbishop of Shkodrë
Rrok K. Mirdita, Archbishop of Durrës-Tirana
Zef Simoni, Auxiliary Bishop of Shkodrë.
In consistory of November 26, 1994, the Pope created the 92 years old prelate Mikel Koliqi, long-time vicar general of Shkodrë and in prison for faith, as a cardinal. However, he never was consecrated a bishop. In the consistory of November 19, 2016, Pope Francis created Reverend Ernest Simoni as cardinal, a priest from Shkodrë-Pult archdiocese, who survived communism in spite of having been condemned to death.
On November 5, 2016, Pope Francis beatified the Servants of God archbishop Nikollë Vinçenc Prennushi and bishop Frano Gjini.
The photos from this page are coming from the archive of Hofrat Dr. Manfred Kierein, Vienna. The picture of Cardinal Simoni: by the author.