Fr Ernest Simoni: the only non-bishop among new cardinals

“I am a poor priest and my only richness is Christ,” are the words that his Italian biographer, Mimmo Muolo, retains of Cardinal-designate Ernest Simoni, hero of the Gospel under the Albanian Communist regimes, who endured condemnation to death and was a slave labourer for almost 30 years.

Father Ernest Simoni is the only non-bishop on the list of 17 who will receive the red hat in November.

Tortured and imprisoned at the time of the Communist persecution, his testimony moved Pope Francis to tears during the apostolic visit to Tirana in 2014.

More than 80 years old, Cardinal Simoni will be a non-elector in case of a Conclave.

On announcing his name yesterday, Sunday, October 9, the Pope specified that he chose “a priest who rendered a clear Christian testimony.”

During Vespers in the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Tirana on November 21, 2014, in the presence of Pope Francis, Father Simoni — who will celebrate his 88th birthday on October 18 — recounted his arrest in 1963, after eight years of priesthood.

Beaten and tortured because he proclaimed Christ, he spent years in prison and in forced labour until the collapse of the regime in 1990. Becoming the Spiritual Father of numerous prisoners, he celebrated Mass in Latin by heart, distributed Communion and heard confessions secretly. He wrote on the wall of his cell: “Jesus is my life.”

“Today we have touched martyrs,” said Pope Francis after his testimony and that of a woman religious: “With this simplicity, they suffered very much physically, psychically, with the anguish of uncertainty, not knowing if they would be shot or not, and they lived with this anguish. The Lord consoled them. (…) He consoles in the depth of the heart and by His strength.”

Pope Francis saw this elderly priest again during a General Audience last April: he then kissed his hands in sign of respect. Continue reading


  • Zenit article by Anita Bourdin, a journalist accredited to the Holy See press office since 1995.
  • Image: Daughters of St Paul
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