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Pope John Paul II and the Albanian Jesuit

Author: James Carroll

“…the story of the Albanian Jesuit. O’Collins was the first of my Roman hosts to refer to this, but several others would do so as well. An emotional encounter had occurred between Father John Luli, an eighty-six year old Jesuit priest, and the Pontiff, and reports of it were passed along as an instance of why so many found His Holiness irresistible. As his anniversary approached, John Paul had invited any Catholic priest in the world who was also marking fifty years since ordination to come to Rome to celebrate with him. More than sixteen hundred priests had accepted, and this week they had been meeting at the Vatican in a series of seminars and services, which would culminate at a gala Mass at St. Peter’s on Sunday. At a Vespers service in the papal-audience hall, Father Luli had been singled out to speak for the assemblage of aged priests. He was chosen because he had spent so much of his priesthood in Communist prisons and labor camps in Albania. He had been released only in 1989, as the Iron Curtain fell. The ordeal had taken its toll, and Father Luli was frail. After his testimony, he made his way carefully back toward his chair, and only then noticed that His Holiness, still on the platform, had come to his feet. The Pope was waiting for the Albanian to approach.

…”An American who had witnessed the scene described it to me: ‘This old Jesuit goes back to the Pope, who is waiting for him with his arms open. But then the Pope closes his arms to clasp his hands, which he does because his left hand shakes so badly. The old Jesuit can hardly walk, but when he gets to the Pope, he starts to go down on his knees, to kiss the Pope’s ring. But the Pope grabs him by the shoulders, and starts to haul him back up. No way is John Paul going to let this priest kneel to him — not after what he’s been through. That’s the feeling. So there you are: this struggle of these two old guys, these two old lions — the Jesuit determined to kneel, and the Pope determined not to let him. Well, forty-two years in Communist jails hadn’t broken that priest, and he made it down to his knees, but not for long. He goes for the ring, but right away the Pope hauls him up again. Just lifts the guy, like a longshoreman, and then throws his arms around him, and really hugs him. I mean, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.’

“I never shook the image of Father Anton Luli, the aged Albanian Jesuit who, after a lifetime in a Communist prison, received that heartfelt embrace from John Paul II.”

Pages 54 & 69
THE SILENCE, by James Carroll
The New Yorker

The Four Albanian Popes

Pope Saint Eleutherius  (175-189)
Pope Saint Caius  (283-296)
Pope John IV  (640-642)
Pope Clement XI  (1700-1721)

In the official newspaper of the Vatican in Rome, L’Osservatore Romano*, Giovanni Armillotta published an article titled “Pope Clement XI and the Albani Family” in which he stated that the prominent Albani family in Italy was founded by two Albanian brothers, George and Filip of Michele dei Lazi, who fought the Turks alongside the 15th century Albanian folkhero, Gjergj Kastrioti, known in Europe as Scanderbeg (1405-1468).  As a military leader of outstanding capabilities, Scanderbeg united hitherto warring Albanian clans into a common army to battle the invading Turks thus preventing the Ottoman Empire from extending into Europe.

The Albani brothers took the name “Albanesi” that George’s son, Altobello (1454-1564) had changed to “Albani”. In addition to Pope Clement XI  (1700-1721), Armilotta  states that the Albani family produced other illustrious personages who became cardinals, diplomats, and important statesmen including Giovanni Girolamo (1509-91) cardinal, Orazio (1576-1653) statesman, Anibale (1682-1751) cardinal, Alessandro (1692-1779) cardinal,  and Guiseppe (1750-1834)  cardinal.

Armallota concludes his article in L’Osservatore Romano by stating that “even before Clement XI (1700-1721), we find there were three other Pontiffs of Albanian origin: Saint Eleutherius (175-189), Saint Caius (283-296), and Pope John IV (640-742)”.

Pope Saint Eleutherius  (175-189)**
Eleutherius spread the Bible to many countries of the Roman Empire. While the legend that an English king Lucius sought baptism from Eleutherius may be fiction, the pope sent a mission to the British which was then a Roman province.  He is believed to be the first Albanian pope.

Pope Saint Caius  (283-296)
Caius decreed that before a man would be bishop, he must first be porter, reader, exorcist, acolyte, sub-deacon, deacon, and priest. He divided the districts of Rome among the deacons. It was during the pontificate of Caius that Diocletian ascended the imperial throne.

Pope John IV  (640-642)
John IV did not forget his native land which was being harried by Serbs. He sent funds to Dalmatia to help redeem the poor natives who had been carried off by barbarians. He also secured relics from the its troubled churches  and built a church in Rome to house them.

Pope Clement XI  (1700-1721)
Born in Urbano, Italy, of the Albani family whose forebears fought for the Turks for 25 years alongside the 15th century folkhero of the Albanians, Scanderbeg thus preventing the Ottoman Turks from overunning Europe. Clement XI also fostered foreign missions but was unsuccessful in converting  Czar Peter the Great.

* L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO  Year CXL -N 139 (42.777), Vatican City,  Wednesday, June 20, 2001
**  See Frosina infobit:  Saint Eleutherius: the First Albanian Pope.

Saint Eleutherius: The First Albanian Pope

Author: by Ismet Hajrullahu

Over the centuries Albanians have distinguished themselves by their bravery, generosity and wisdom; their contribution to the European civilization has unquestionably been remarkable. Knowing the history of the Albanians has made an immense impact on the strengthening of their national identity. Albanians, as one of the most ancient peoples in Europe, were the first on the European continent to embrace Christianity. Albanians produced such holy personages as Saint Eleutherius, Pope Clement XI, Saint Dardan, Saint Jeronim, Saint Ashtin, and others whom many other nations have attempted to claim as their own.

Yet, the Slavs maintain that Saint Jeronim was a Croat and have understandably been proud of him. But here ís the issue: where was Saint Jeronim from? Were there any Croats living at that time in Dalmacia? Which peoples lived in Dalmatia? Illyrians were the ones living in Dalmatia back then, a historical fact that proves Saint Jeronim was Illyrian.

Among those saints, about whom little is mentioned, is Saint Eleutherius, one of the predecessors of other Albanian Popes, and one of those renowned personages who contributed to the spread of Christianity, not only among Albanians, but throughout the entire European continent.

Hundreds of bishops from Illyria participated in the first Synod of Rome established in 130 A.D. This fact provides evidence to the existence of a well-organized church administration in Illyria during the 2nd century. The first elements of the church that constitute the foundations of Christian doctrine, the first seven ecumenical codes, are from llyrian territories (llyria was once called ” The Island of Saints”). This is the best evidence of the contributions that Albanians have made to European civilization.

Saint Eleutherius was born a hundred years after Christ in the town of Nikopol, a well-known town in Epirus. Some archeologists maintain that this is the present town of Preveza. He was educated in Rome under Pope Saint Aciteti (whose papacy lasted 11 years, from 157-168) where he received Holy Orders. In 177 AD, Saint Eleutherius was appointed Pope and assumed the Holy Seat at Saint Peter’s. During his papacy, Saint Eleutherius spread the Bible to many countries of the Roman Empire. Based on existing data, after the beseechment of Lucas who was the King of England, Saint Eleutherius sent missionaries to preach Christianity — the faith that civilized European nations and which remain predominant there to the present day.

In 192 AD, after 15 years of his papacy, Saint Eleutherius was martyred by idolaters of Rome. Attempts by others to claim Saint Elutherius and Saint Jeronim as their own are numerous. In reality, Saint Eleutherius is neither Greek nor Roman as some historians contend. He is clearly an Illyrian predecessor of Albanians, born and raised in Epirus, a territory that lies from the Vjosa River to the Ambraky Bay in the south, from the Pindus Mountains in the east up to the Ionian seacoast in the west, a territory ruled by King Pirros in 277 BC. In one of Skenderbeg’s correspondences written in Kruja in 1460 to the prince of Taranto, he states, among other things, “We the Albanians are being called Epiriots.”

The continuity of Arber (Albania) is very well preserved in the annals of the Catholic Church, but what has been written about it is something else. I have to admit that we, Albanians, unfortunately are much lacking in this respect as we have not given our saints their rightful places in history. We have left them in obscurity unlike the Western civilization which has faithfully and fanatically preserved them — Excerpted from URA, a bimonthly magazine for immigrants, No. 7, July 2001, Prishtina, Kosova.