Pope Francis on Saturday appointed Cardinal Ernest Simoni to be his delegate at the consecration of a cathedral dedicated to St. Teresa of Calcutta in Pristina, the capital of the self-declared state of Kosovo.
The consecration will take place Sept. 5, 2017, the 20th anniversary of the death of St. Teresa of Calcutta, and just one year after her canonization in Rome by Pope Francis.
Though in use by Catholics in the area since 2010, the consecration will mark the shrine’s formal dedication to Mother Teresa.
Cardinal Simoni, 88, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult. He is one of the last survivors of the communist persecution in Albania.
Cardinal Simoni was a seminarian in December 1944, when an atheistic communist regime came to power in Albania. In 1948, communists shot and killed his Franciscan superiors. He continued his studies in secret and was later ordained a priest.
Four years later, communist leaders gathered together priests who had survived and offered them freedom if they distanced themselves from the Pope and the Vatican. Cardinal Simoni and his brother priests refused.
On Dec. 24, 1963, as he was concluding Mass, four officials served him an arrest warrant and decree of execution. He was handcuffed and detained. During interrogation, they told him he would be hanged as an enemy because he told the people, “We will all die for Christ if necessary.”
He suffered immense torture, but said “the Lord wanted me to keep living.” He was later freed from the death sentence and given 28 years of forced labor instead, during which time he celebrated Mass, heard confessions, and distributed Communion in secret.
Cardinal Simoni was released only when the communist regime fell and freedom of religion was recognized. Pope Francis made him a cardinal in the consistory of Nov. 19, 2016.
Built in an neo-renaissance and Italianate style of architecture, the Church of St. Teresa of Calcutta will eventually have two bell towers, each 230 feet tall, making it one of the tallest buildings in the city.
It’s stained-glass windows include depictions of St. Teresa of Calcutta with St. John Paul II, and Pope Francis embracing Benedict XVI.
Begun in 2007, it is the main Catholic church in Kosovo, though it is still partially under construction.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, and its independence is recognized by the United States, much of western Europe, as well as by other countries across the globe.
There are approximately 65,000 Catholics out of a population of roughly 2 million in Kosovo. They are mainly ethnic Albanians, like St. Teresa of Calcutta. There are also some Eastern Orthodox, but the area is majority Muslim.
Most Catholics in Kosovo live in Pristina, as well as the cities of Klina, Gjakove/Djakovica, Viti and Prizren, where St. Teresa of Calcutta’s parents were from.