By Elise Harris

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2016 / 11:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Tuesday gave the green light for the beatification of 38 Albanian martyrs, all of whom were killed by the country’s atheistic, communist regime between 1945 and 1974.

In an April 26 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Francis officially acknowledged the martyrdom of Archbishop Nikollë Vinçenc Prennushi of Durrës and his 37 companions.

Archbishop Prennushi, who was a member of the Order of Friars Minor, was jailed by the communist regime in the 1940s, and died in prison as a result of torture in 1949. The rest of his companions shared a similar fate, and were murdered by the regime from 1945 to 1974.

The martyrs were a key focus of Pope Francis’ Sept. 21, 2015 trip to Albania, in which he urged the country to learn from their dark past, but look toward the future with hope.

Albania came under the control of a communist government beginning in 1944, and persecution of religious leader soon followed. Almost 2,100 people, including Catholic priests and adherents of other religions, were brutally killed because of their religious beliefs. In 1967, the country declared itself an atheist state.

The activities of the Church were hindered, school and seminaries closed, and bishops and priests were killed or arrested. Out of seven bishops and 200 priest and nuns in active ministry in Albania in 1945, just one bishop and 30 priests and nuns were alive when the communist regime collapsed in 1991.

In addition to the Albanian martyrs, Pope Francis also advanced 11 other saints’ causes, including another group of martyrs and that of an 18-year-old girl.

The Pope acknowledged the martyrdom of Servant of God José Antón Gómez and his three companions, allowing for their beatification. All were priests of the Order of St Benedict and were killed for the faith in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

A miracle was recognized for Bl. Alfonso Maria Fusco, allowing for his canonization. A diocesan priest and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist, Fr. Fusco was born in 1839 and died Feb. 6, 1910.

Francis also recognized 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 Feb. 19, 1933.

In addition, the Pope acknowledged 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.

Born July 10, 1941, 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 March 26, 1959, at just 18 years old.

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 canonized by St. John Paul II in 1984.

Born March 1, 1821, Fr. Choe is frequently referred to as the “Martyr of Sweat” due to the roughly 1,740 miles he would walk each year in order to evangelize Korea’s remote villages. He died June 15, 1861.

Others whose heroic virtue was approved of are: Servant of God Sosio Del Prete, a Franciscan priest and Founder of the Congregation of Little Handmaids of Christ the King; Servant of God Venantius Katarzyniec a priest with the Conventional Franciscan Order; Servant of God Maria Consiglio dello Spirito Santo, foundress of the Congregation of Sister Servants of the Sorrowful Mother; Servant of God María de la Encarnación, foundress of the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis of the Rebaño de María; Servant of God Maria Laura Baraggia, foundress of the Sisters of the Family of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and Servant of God Ilia Corsaro, foundress of the Little Missionaries of the Eucharist.

Tags: Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Albania, Archbishop Nikollë Vinçenc Prennushi