TIRANA , Albania — The Catholic Church in Albania says the Vatican has set Nov. 5 as the day of beatification of 38 Albanian religious martyrs killed by the former Communist regime.
In April, Pope Francis officially recognized as martyrs Archbishop Vincens Prenushi and 37 other priests who died in prison or were murdered in 1945-1974 by the late communist dictator Enver Hoxha’s regime, the church said a statement Wednesday.
Under new procedures instituted by Benedict XVI, popes generally no longer celebrate beatification ceremonies in Rome. Instead it occurs in the local diocese, with popes leading only the canonization ritual that marks the formal declaration of someone as a saint.
Hoxha’s former Albanian regime banned religion. In 1967 and persecuted its leaders and believers.
During Francis’ visit to Tirana in 2014, big posters of the 38 clergy were placed along the Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard in the capital.
Francis held up Albania, with a majority of Muslims and also with Orthodox and Catholic communities, as a model for interfaith harmony.
“The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country,” Francis said, addressing the local authorities and some of Albania’s religious leaders.
In times when “the authentic religious spirit is being perverted and religious differences are being distorted and exploited,” he said, then religious differences “lead to conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue.”
The 2014 outing was Francis’s first trip to a European nation after his election to the papacy.
Addressing the Albanian president and his cabinet, Francis underlined that Albania is the proof that a peaceful coexistence is not only “desirable, but possible and realistic.”
Francis called this interaction “an inestimable benefit to peace and to harmonious human advancement.”
Albania has a large majority of Muslims, close to 57 percent, with Roman Catholics as the biggest minority, at 10 percent, and Orthodox Christians at just under 7 percent.
Francis told Albanians that he knew they had to make many sacrifices, even after their “winter of isolation and persecution” during the Communist era formally ended in 1991, but said that the contribution of all has “improved the life of the nation in general.”