Rev. Ernest Simoni, presbyter of the Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult (Albania), was born on October 18th, 1928 in Troshani, a village a few kilometres from Shkodrë, to a deeply religious family. At the age of ten he entered the Franciscan College in Troshani, beginning the process of formation for the priesthood.
In 1948, at the height of persecution by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, the Franciscan convent was looted and turned into in a place of torture for prisoners. The friars were all shot, and the novices expelled. He was twenty years old, and was sent by the regime to teach in a remote village in the mountains. Here his work as a teacher became principally a missionary and evangelizing task. After two years of hard military service (1953-1955), he concluded his clandestine studies in theology and on April 7th, 1956 was ordained a priest in Shkodrë.
In obedience to the bishop, he was incardinated in the diocese although he remained profoundly Franciscan at heart.
On December 24th, 1963, after the Christmas Mass, he was arrested and jailed in Shkodrë, where he was held in solitary confinement. Sentenced to death, the sentence was commuted to 25 years of hard labor. In prison he became spiritual father and point of reference for prisoners.
On May 22nd, 1973 he was again sentenced to death as the alleged instigator of a revolt, but on account of favourable testimony from his jailers the sentence was not carried out. His prison stay lasted 18 years, twelve of which he spent in the mines.
After liberation in 1981, he was still considered an “enemy of the people” and forced to work in the Shkodrë sewers. He exercised the ministry of the priesthood clandestinely, untill the fall of the regime in 1990. Since then he has continued to serve as a humble priest, in many villages, seeking to reconcile feuds and to bring his testimony, which deeply moved even Pope on his his visit to Tirana on September 21st. 2014.
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by Pope Francis in the consistory of 19 November 2016, diaconate of Santa Maria della Scala.