By Dom Giovannino Kemal Kokona
Memorie.al / Dom Anton Zogaj were born in Kthella Mirdita in July 1908 and grew up in Gjakova. At the age of 12, he entered the Pontifical Seminary in Shkodër, to fulfill his priestly vocation, a vocation that he had felt since he was young. He was very committed to his spiritual and cultural formation. Then he spent the last two years of the Seminary in Austria. On the Day of Our Lady of Good Counsel, that is, on April 26, 1932, he was ordained a priest and in September of that year, he was appointed to the parish of Shna Prenda in Kurbin. After five years of service there, in 1937 he was appointed vicar of Durrës.
A task that he will hold next to that, later, of the secretary of the Archbishop Vinçens Prennushi, with whom he will share everything, even martyrdom. Dom Zogaj was a very serious person in character, with authority, strong and few words, respectful.
Obedient and diligent priest, very spiritual, determined, but also sweet, sometimes strict, youthful, suffering with the suffering, patient. The spirit of love stood out in him, he helped everyone, including Muslims. He nurtured in his heart, a constant and ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament.
He turned to the intercession of Our Lady, just like his own mother. He ordered everyone to always pray the rosary. As a parish priest, he personally took care of children’s catechism and had a special sensitivity for the sick. When, according to tradition, for the Easter holiday, he blessed the boiled and colored eggs, he also distributed them to Muslim children, so that they too would be immensely happy for this holiday.
He tried to promote harmony among everyone, including Muslims and Orthodox. He was aware that the communist storm that was covering the country did not bring anything good for the people and even more for the believers. In fact, in August 1944, as one of the young people of that period, (Vlash Curri) remembers, Dom Antoni gathered the young people of the parish and after explaining the difficult situation that was presented, he asked them to swear that no one none of them would ever abandon religion.
And in fact, only three months after the establishment of the communist regime, in a relation of the Jesus River, Father Giovanni Fausti, it is written that: “Dom Anton Zogaj was subjected to a detailed raid, taking all the manuscripts and documents”. Another clear testimony is given in a report by a former employee of AGIP, Mr. Cavallini, who left Albania at the end of May 1947.
This is how he describes it: “I spoke for a long time with the parish priest of Durrës, Dom Anton, who, in the conversation, showed me the fear that soon, any pretext would be formulated against him, in order to lock him in prison and lock him up the church of Durrës; at that time, 58, among 80 priests, were suffering in prisons…! On Sunday, May 18, 1947, after mass at 9:30, Dom Antoni went by bicycle to Mass in Shijak…! This was the last mass”!
On the night between May 18 and 19, at 2 o’clock, Dom Antoni was arrested, together with another priest, who lived in Shijak. Monsignor Prennushi would also be arrested on the night between May 19 and 20. “On the evening of May 21 – the relation continues – one of our compatriots (Italian) saw Dom Antoni, with handcuffs on his feet, in the middle of three soldiers armed with rifles, arriving in Durrës, probably from Tirana. He was barely recognizable”!
At the time of the arrest, whoever was present heard him say to the Security police: “Hey, I’m ready.” Dom Antoni was right in his feeling that State Security would find any kind of pretext.
And in fact, an interesting detail is given by a Salesian sister, Sister Pasquina Auciello, who recalled: “As soon as the function ended (Mass in the village of Shna Prenda celebrated by Archbishop Prennushi, Dom Zogaj was also present), the Archbishop was accused of; in 1943, he saluted the Assembly in a fascist manner (secret spies present at the function saw the prelate stretching out his hands to invoke the Holy Spirit and interpreted that gesture as a fascist salute!). It was a sufficient pretext to put into action what they had decided for some time.”
Both (Monk Prennushi and Dom Zogaj) were sued by a resident of the village, present at the celebration, who was a communist. As Pal Lala testifies: “Dom Zogajn was targeted especially because he had not stopped insisting on the values of the Catholic religion.” And under the communist regime, being Catholic was practically considered a crime!
During the investigation, they brutally tortured him, asking him to reveal the secret of the confession, which he never did. A witness, Vlash Curri, testifies that; in that period, he once asked a young man who worked with him, (Agimit, the son of a prison guard), to ask his father about Dom Anton.
His father told him: “I have never seen a man who faced the terrible tortures he suffered with such strength and courage.” Dom Anthony was sentenced to death on Christmas Eve 1947. By shooting. And at the beginning of March 1948, at the age of 39, he was executed, after making the sign of the cross, this note written in the minutes of the execution.
He was shot in Porto Romano, in the area of Spitalla in Durrës. Apparently, on the hill where the villagers of the area buried him later, some houses were built and the traces of the grave were lost, but his blood watered that “dry and waterless” human land, that in the future, became more fertile.
Dom Anthony, now united with Christ, the divine Martyr, certainly prays and intercedes for us, next to his Teacher. May his faithfulness inspire us to be faithful, in our daily activities, to Him who is; The Way, the Truth and the Life! Memorie.al