Priest and Martyr (1898-1971)
+ Shtjefën (or Stephen) was born in Ferizoviç (modern-day Ferizaj, Serbia). As a young man he studied in Austria and Rome and he was ordained a priest in 1924.
+ Following his ordination, he began pastoral work in the archdiocese of Tiranë-Gurres, Albania and spent many years serving as a parish priest. As the Communist authorities increased their persecution of Albania’s Christians, Father Shtjefën wrote to the League of Nations (the precursor of the United Nations) in 1930 to try to draw attention to the suffering and oppression.
+ In 1946 he was arrested by Communist authorities and imprisoned in Tirana and Burrel. Although he was condemned to death, the sentence was commuted and he spent 17 years in prison.
+ Following his release, in 1963, he endured years of psychological torture by the Communist regime. The goal was to break the priest’s faith and use him to undermine the belief of Christians who persevered in their own faith. At one point he was even forced to dig his own grave and the authorities simulated his execution, all in the hopes that the trauma was destroy Shtjefën emotionally and spiritually.
+ Despite his sufferings, the priest continued his ministry until he was arrested and sentenced to 16 years in a forced labor camp. In 1970, he secretly baptized a newborn baby in the camp, a crime for which he was rearrested and executed on October 20, 1971.
+ Blessed Shtjefën Kurti was beatified with 29 other Albanian martyrs in 2016.
For prayer and reflection
“They preferred to submit to prison, torture and finally death, in order to remain faithful to Christ and to the Church. May their example help us to find in the Lord strength that supports in moments of difficulty and that inspires attitudes of goodness, forgiveness and peace.”—Pope Francis reflecting on the beatification of Blessed Shtjefën Kurti and the Martyrs of Albania
Almighty and merciful God, who brought your Martyr blessed Stjefën to overcome the torments of his passion, grant that we, who celebrate the day of his triumph, may remain invincible under your protection against the snares of the enemy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Martyrs—For One Martyr)
Saint profiles prepared by Brother Silas Henderson, S.D.S.