Cardinal Ernest Simoni

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Photo: Fr. Simoni with Francis during the Pope’s visit to Albania in September 2014 (photo courtesy of CTV).

The Pope has named seventeen new Cardinals. The only one who is not an Archbishop or a Bishop is Fr. Ernest Simoni, an 84 year old priest from Albania who in 2014, on the Pope’s visit, in the cathedral of Tirana, told the story of his twenty seven years of torture, imprisonment and forced labour under the brutal regime of Enver Hoxha. He said of his captors at the time that Christ had taught us to love our enemies and to forgive them and that we should strive to seek the good of the people. While in prison, he continued to celebrate Mass from memory in Latin, to distribute communion secretly and to hear confessions.
In America Magazine Gerard O’Connell wrote of that day at Tirana in 2014: “I have been on many papal trips to foreign countries over the past thirty years and have experienced some profoundly moving and faith-filled moments on several of them but I had never before seen a Pope so overcome with emotion that he wept. But that is what I witnessed on Sunday evening, September 21, in the cathedral of Tirana.”
After he finished speaking that day Fr Simoni turned to the Pope and told him, “I pray through the Most Holy Mother of Christ that the Lord will give you life, health and strength in guiding the great flock that is the Church of Christ.” He then went towards the Pope and went down on one knee before him. Francis pulled him up, kissed his hand and embraced him for a long time, and then put his head against his and wept. The Pope turned to the altar, took off his glasses and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief.
Pope Francis said later that before going to Tirana he had spent two months studying the history of the persecution in Albania, “but I had not realized that this people had suffered so, so much. It was a surprise for me,” he confessed.

The two met again at the Pope’s General Audience on 20th April this year. In a
brief but emotionally-charged encounter Pope Francis was again seen to be visibly moved and said: “This is an Albanian martyr,” when he saw Fr Simoni. And once again, he pressed his forehead to the forehead of the living martyr. Fr Simoni gave Francis a copy of a book that was to be launched that same afternoon in which he talks about his life story.
The book, taking Fr. Simoni’s meeting with the Pope in Tirana in 2014 as his point of departure, is by journalist Mimmo Muolo and entitled: Fr. Ernest Simoni: From Forced Labor to a Meeting with Francis.

When asked how he managed to endure such persecution without giving up, Fr. Ernest smiled before saying: “I didn’t do anything extraordinary really, I always prayed to Jesus, I always talked to Jesus.”

The priest described what moved him about this second encounter with the Pope: “Everyone sees and knows that the Holy Father, as Jesus said, is perfectly rooted in the word of God.” Father Ernest said that from his two encounters with the Pope, what struck him is that Francis is a “father of everyone who has difficulties.” He paused and added that he is fundamentally a man of Jesus. And this translates to “loving and forgiving every day, and spiritually and materially aiding the orphans and the poor.”

Fr Simoni is said by many sources including the Tablet and America Magazine to be a Franciscan.

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OFSGB National Assembly 2017 Upon This Rock: Rebuild My Church

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All fraternities should have received back in the spring of this year, via their regions, information about the 2017 OFSGB National Assembly entitled “Upon This Rock: Rebuild My Church” which will be held in Gibraltar from Friday 21st April to Monday 24th April 2017. For more information see this programme. Here is an excellent opportunity to meet the successful and growing Gibraltar fraternity, the largest fraternity in OFSGB, numbering about sixty. Gibraltar fully supported the Youth Gather held at Cold Ash, and has already established a Young Franciscan Group. Here you will see the Gibraltar fraternity in action on behalf of Syrian refugees.
Christine Frendo from Gibraltar is our National Youth Councillor and her daughter Joanna Torres is Youth Councillor for the London Region.
It is now time to ask you to complete a registration form (click this link) and mail it to Michael Martin by 15th November, together with your deposit. We hope that a large number of members will wish to take advantage of this opportunity. Perhaps stay for a few extra days and make a holiday of it.

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Feast of St Francis: OFM Appeal for Syria

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May the Lord grant you peace on this feast day of our Holy Father Francis!
And on this great feast the Friars Minor have launched this urgent appeal calling for the designation of Aleppo, and other places in Syria, as Safe Zones. The appeal is co-signed by the Minister General Fr. Michael A. Perry OFM and by the Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton OFM.
In particular – note Fr. Perry and Fr. Patton – the establishment of a security zone around Aleppo “would allow the whole population, worn down by the terrible effects of the conflict, to receive essential humanitarian aid without discrimination, to find safety and security, and to recover some trust and hope in a speedy solution, which would be motivated by peace alone”. The Religious Superiors also pledge their prayers and support to “our confrères who courageously continue to live in Syria. Through their closeness and practical service to all those weighed down by the harrowing consequences of the conflict, the friars have shown themselves to be true “good Samaritans”.
Currently there are about fifteen Friars Minor in Syria. Among them, in addition to the religious dispersed in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia, there are two friars who continue to carry out their pastoral service in Knayeh, Yacoubieh and Jdeideh, in the villages of the Orontes valley, subject to the domination of jihadist forces, where some hundreds of baptized continue to live, pray and attend Masses celebrated in the three Catholic parishes stripped of the bells, crosses and statues of saints. The two friars who are with them are the only priests and religious Christians left in the lands where jihadist militias dictate laws.
May we secular franciscans also pledge our prayers and support to “our confrères who courageously continue to live in Syria”.
To read the message as a pdf see here.
For more information on the work of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land see here and here.
The full Agenzia Fides report on the launch of the appeal is here.
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