Vatican Confidential: Where are the unsung heroes of persecution?

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Ernest Simoni. Not a name you are likely to be familiar with. Even if it’s a name worth remembering.
Because Ernest Simoni is one of the Church’s unsung heroes.

Jailed at the age of 35, he spent nearly three decades in an Albanian prison. Considered an “enemy of
the people” by the Communist regime, he was condemned to death twice, and spent years in solitary
confinement. When he was finally released in 1990, he was sent to work in the sewers. His crime?
Celebrating Mass.

Today, Ernest Simoni is 95 years old. He’s also a Cardinal. His story is heroic, because he never
submitted to his torturers. Even in prison he would save up a few breadcrumbs to consecrate in secret.
It’s a story he was able to share in person with Pope Francis during his visit to Albania in 2016. A story
that moved the Pope deeply…

As a priest and as a bishop, he spent 28 years in prison, the Communist prison in Albania, where persecution was cruelest. He continues to bear witness, and like him so many, so very many.

Among those many witnesses is Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop, Irynej Bilyk. Today he is one of the
Canons of the Church of Saint Mary Major in Rome, but for years he served clandestinely as a Bishop
in the Soviet Union. He too could only celebrate Mass in secret. It was too dangerous for anyone even
to know he was a priest.

Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Bishop

Not even my family, not even my mother. They didn't know about the episcopal consecration. My mother died in 1984, and she never knew that I had already been a priest for six years.

Stories like these are powerful because they remind us of just how privileged we are to be able to
express our Faith in peace and freedom. They remind us too of the sacrifice and suffering that is still
being endured in too many places around the world where people are persecuted for their beliefs and
where religious liberty is limited, or denied altogether.

In an era that is sorely lacking in heroes, these are stories that need to be told. But we ought to hurry,
especially if we want to take advantage of the fact that some of the heroes of those stories are still alive
and able to tell them.

Hollywood… are you listening?


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