On Sunday, September 21, 2014, during his visit to Albania, Pope Francis met with priests, seminarians, religious men & women & lay leaders in Tirana Cathedral to celebrate Vespers. Upon hearing the very moving testimonies of a priest and sister who were imprisoned for many years under the very harsh communist regime in Albania, Pope Francis set aside his prepared text and spoke the following very moving words to the assembly in St. Paul's Cathedral in Tirana, Albania this afternoon. Pope Francis embraced both the elderly priest and sister who gave testimony during the Vespers service.
"I had prepared several words to tell you, and I will give it to the Archbishop so that he may send you the translation once it is done. But now, I would like to tell you something else. We heard in the Reading: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (1 Cor. 1,3-4).
It is the text that the Church makes us reflect upon in today's Vespers. In these past two months, I have prepared myself for this visit, reading the history of the persecutions in Albania. And it was a shock for me: I did not know that your people suffered so much! Then, today, on the way from the airport to the square, all these photographs of the martyrs. I can see that this people still remembers its martyrs, of those who suffered so much! A people of martyrs... And today, at the start of this celebration, I have touched two of them. That which I can tell you is what they have already said, with their lives, with their simple words...they spoke about things with such simplicity...but with so much pain!
And we may ask them: "But how were you able to survive so much tribulation?" And they will say this passage that we have heard in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. It was He who consoled us!", with this simplicity. They have suffered too much. They suffered physically, psychologically even, that anguish of uncertainty: if they were going to be gunned down or not...And they lived like that, with that anguish! And the Lord consoled them... I think of Peter, imprisoned, in chains: the whole Church prayed for him. And the Lord consoled Peter, and the martyrs and these two who we have heard today, the Lord consoled them because there were people in the Church, the people of God, the holy and good old women, so many cloistered nuns who prayed for them. And this is the mystery of the Church: when the Church asks the Lord to console His people, the Lord humbly consoles, even hidden. He consoles in the depths of the heart and consoles with strength. They, I'm sure, do not brag about what they lived through because they know that it was the Lord who carried them forward. But they tell us something, right? That for us, who are called to follow the Lord up close, the only consolation comes from Him, right?
Woe to us if we look for consolation elsewhere! Woe to the priests, the religious, the nuns, the novices, the consecrated when they look for consolation far from the Lord! I do not want to 'hit you over the head' (it. bastonarvi), eh? I do not want to become the executioner here, but know this well, eh? If you look for consolation somewhere else, you will not be happy! Even more so: no one will be able to console you, because your heart was not opened to the consolation of the Lord. And you will end, as the great Elijah says to the people of Israel, "limping with both legs". Praise be God the Father, God of every consolation, who consoles us in all our tribulations, so that we may also console those who find themselves in any form of affliction, with the consolation with which we ourselves have been consoled, by God. It is what these two have done, today. With humility, without pretext, without bragging, doing a service for us: consoling us. Also, they tell us "But, we are sinners".
Indeed, they say to us: "Sinners, but the Lord has been with us: this is the path. Do not be discouraged!" Forgive me, if I use you today as an example, but we should all be an example for the other. But, let us go home thinking well of this: Today, we have touched the martyrs."