Pope Francis approves beatification of 38 martyrs murdered by Albania's former communist rulers

Pope Francis waves during his visit to Tirana, Albania, on Sept. 21, 2014.Reuters

Pope Francis has officially given a thumbs-up for the beatification of 38 Albanian martyrs, including Archbishop Nikollë Vinçenc Prennushi of Durrës, all of whom were murdered by the country's atheistic, communist regime between 1945 and 1974.

The pontiff acknowledged the martyrdom of Archbishop Prennushi and his 37 companions in an April 26 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, reports the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

In 1944, a communist government took control of Albania and reportedly caused the persecution of a religious leader and the death of almost 2,100 Catholic priests and devotees of other religions. The country then declared itself an atheist state.

During that time, church activities were banned, and schools including seminaries were closed. Bishops and priests were also killed or arrested. Of the seven bishops and 200 priests and nuns in Albania before the communist takeover, only one bishop and 30 priests and nuns were found alive when the communist regime ended, reports the Christian Daily.

A member of the Order of Friars Minor, Archbishop Prennushi, was jailed and tortured during the communist regime in the 1940s for his religious belief. The rest of his companions shared a similar fate and were murdered by the regime from 1945 to 1974.

In his Sept. 21, 2015 trip to Albania, the Pope urged the country ''to look towards the future with hope'' and learn from their dark past.

In addition to the Albanian martyrs, Pope Francis also acknowledged the martyrdom of Servant of God Jose Anton Gomez and his three companions, including an 18-year-old girl. All were priests of the Order of St Benedict and killed for the faith in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

The pope also recognised a miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Servant of God John Sullivan, S.J, paving the way for his beatification. Born in Ireland in 1861, the priest was a convert to Catholicism and became famous for his holiness and devotion before dying on Feb. 19, 1933.

Moreover, the Pope praised the heroic virtue of eight individuals, including Servant of God María Montserrat Grases García. A laywoman, García was a member of the Personal Prelature of the Holy Cross and of Opus Dei, said CNA.

She was known for her fidelity and closeness to God, even when she was diagnosed with cancer as a teen. After enduring excruciating pains due to her illness, García died on March 26, 1959, at just 18 years of age.

Pope Francis also approved the heroic virtue of Servant of God Fr. Thomas Choe Yang-Eop, who was Korea's second priest and the son of two of the country's 124 martyrs, who were canonised by St. John Paul II in 1984.

Fr. Choe was frequently referred to as the "Martyr of Sweat" due to the roughly 1,740 miles he would walk each year in order to evangelise people in Korea's remote villages. He died on June 15, 1861, reports say.