Memorie.al publishes the unknown story of Dom Frano Illias originating from the village of Juban in the district of Shkodra, who after being educated at the Saverian College and the Papal Seminary in the city of Shkodra, he was sent to Italy to pursue higher studies at the Seminary International of the Lazarist Fathers in Genoa, which he completed in 1943 and returned to Albania, where he was ordained a priest and appointed to serve at the Dioceses of Tirana and Durres. After serving for several years at the Parish of Tirana, Dom Frano Illia was appointed by his superiors to serve in the Parish of the town of Milot and the village of Delbnisht of Kurbin, where he, in addition to religious services, dedicated himself for years. scientific research work in the field of Ethnography, wandering through the villages of the Kurbin area and the surrounding provinces, to collect their docks and customs, the study of which would constitute the later work “Skanderbeg’s Kanun”, which in in 1967, he submitted it to the Ethnography Department of the Institute of Folk Culture Studies in Tirana. His arrest and death sentence, by the District Court of Kruja, which with the accusation as “enemy of popular power”, initially sentenced him to death, but then the People’s Assembly spared his life, reducing him to 25 years in prison. , from which he suffered for nearly a year and was released in 1986, to return again to the town of Milot, from where he began the long ordeal in search of his major work “Skanderbeg’s Kanun”, writing several letters The Chairman of the Presidium of the People’s Assembly, Ramiz Alia and the Prime Minister, Adil Çarçani! How Dom Frano managed to find his work and publish it a few days before April 25, 1993, when the head of the Holy See visited Albania, Pope John Paul II, who ordained Dom Frano as Bishop of Shkodra!
On April 25, 1993, the day when the head of the Holy See of the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, visited for the first time the Albanian land, in the Cathedral of the Great Church in Shkodra, to which it returned to its destination after about 25 years from the day when the communist regime would close religious institutions and ban the practice of religion by law, he would ordain four Catholic Bishops, who from that day would lead the hierarchy of the Clergy of the new Albanian Catholic Church rose after nearly a quarter of a century. One of these senior clergymen of the Albanian Catholic Church who at the end of April 1993, was ordained by the Pope of Rome, was Dom Frano Illia, who was being crowned Archbishop of Shkodra, at the age of 75, after he had passed a part good of his life, in the prisons of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime.
Who Was Dom Frano Illia?
Frano Illia was born in 1918, in the village of Juban in the district of Shkodra, which is one of the nine villages that make up the province from the right bank of the river Drin, east-south-west, to the river Kir, in the north, which separates from the city of Shkodra. The village of Juban lies around the western slope of Mount Sheldia and is the second largest village of the nine villages after the Black Stone. Until the age of nine, Frano Illia grew up in this village and then he, thanks to his ingenuity and inclination for books, would be taken by the parish priest of the area, to continue his studies at the Saverian College and the Albanian Pontifical Seminary in the city of Shkodra. In this College, Frano stood out as one of the students of many studios, not only in religious subjects, but also in general ones, especially in history and literature, where he occasionally entered into debates with his professors during classes. After completing these studies at the Pontifical Seminary in Shkodra, Frano was sent to continue his further studies in Italy, where he settled in Genoa together with some of his peers, who came from the same seminary and registered to continue studies at the International Seminary of the Lazarist Fathers in Genoa. After studying in Genoa, Frano returned to his hometown of Shkodra in 1943, where he would not return to study. In the same year, on December 18, he was ordained a priest and held the first Mass in this city. After being ordained a priest in the city of Shkodra, Frano Illia was appointed by his superiors to the Diocese of Durrës and served in Tirana near this parish, giving Catechism. After serving for several years in the parish of the capital, he was appointed to serve in the village of Skuraj in the Kurbin district.
Kurbin, where Frano Illia collected the “Kanun”!
Dom Frano Illia spent a large part of his life in the district of Kurbin, in the churches of Skuraj, Delbnisht and Milot, where in addition to religious services he also engaged in studies, conducting extensive research in the field of ethnography, which will to serve him in his major work “Skanderbeg’s Kanun”, which he would publish only in 1993, (when he had gone for treatment in Italy), with the help of some of his parish colleagues, in the various provinces of Italy. Concerning his time of service in the district of Kurbin, Dom Frano Illia recalled: From the beginning I started collecting fragments of history, folklore and dialect of this people. After very close to some select and capable elders, my desire increased to organically list the canons and customs of the country and the work entitled “The Habit of Kurbin”. Tue deepened in this land, tue extended the radius of action, got acquainted with the provinces around central Albania and this completed work, it seemed more appropriate to call it “Skanderbeg Kanun”, after I proved well, that all these provinces had a common “canon”, which was associated with the house of the Kastriots and with the name of Gjergj Kastriot Skanderbeg, our National Hero. In every meeting with the people we met, we took advantage of raising canon and oral tradition issues, asking old men and women about their sphere, with a pencil in hand. Among the elders, a custom with a sign for the recognition of the canon and the customs of the country and for trials and elders was LLesh Gjokë Malçi (1900-1979), from Skuraj, the first elder of the Bajrak of Kurbin, whose house was canoe foundation since before the XIV century, as folklore shows today. After many years that Dom Frano Illia wandered through the villages of Kurbin and the surrounding provinces, to collect their docks and customs, the study of which would constitute the later work: “Kanun i Skënderbeut”, he approached the Sector of Ethnography at the Institute of Folk Culture Studies in Tirana (as an external collaborator), to enable the publication of that major work. In this regard, Dom Frano recalled: “In the summer of 1967, the canonical material collected by me was considered sufficient to be reviewed by a group of ethnographers in the Ethnography Sector in Tirana, in order to publish it. A meeting was organized with external and internal collaborators, but the meeting was postponed once again due to the absence of an important internal guest. That meeting never took place again, but instead another one took place, putting me in bars and throwing me inside the prison, on September 23, 1967.
1967 Dom Frano Illia arrested and sentenced to death!
In 1967, when the communist regime of Enver Hoxha was finalizing the final blow against religious beliefs and especially against the Catholic Clergy, in the town of Milot in September of that year, Dom Frani Illia would be arrested and convicted on the charge known as “enemy of the people”by a Kruja district court. He was initially sentenced to death by firing squad, but after his death sentence, his lawyer drafted a petition to the Presidium of the People’s Assembly to pardon the life of Dom Frano and presented this to him for signature. Dom Frano, after reading his lawyer’s prayer, refused to sign it, as the lawyer had written there that: he would permanently give up religious services and allegiance to God. Dom Frano agreed to sign the prayer for the forgiveness of his life, only after the lawyer deleted from it the lines that said he (Dom Frano Illia) renounced religion. In the trial that took place against him, Dom Frano maintained a manly attitude and developed fierce controversies with the prosecutor, to whom he finally addressed: “Mr. Prosecutor, happy as you are, that we are not like you”. The death sentence was communicated to you on April 25, 1968, with the charge fabricated as a Vatican spy. After that, he lived for days and nights, anxiously awaiting the date of execution, which returned to 25 years in prison, which he would perform in several forced labor camps.
Year 1986, the search odyssey of “Skanderbeg’s Kanun”, up to Ramiz Alia
In 1986, after Dom Frano Illia had spent almost 20 years in the prisons and forced labor camps of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime, he was released from prison and returned to the town of Milot, from where he had escaped in handcuffs in 1967. Although he was released from prison, he was again pursued by the State Security, as he secretly performed religious services in various families, who asked him for that service. Also during that period, he would begin the long odyssey in search of his work “Skanderbeg’s Kanun”, which had cost him almost 20 years of work and study. In addition to the major work “Kanuni”, Dom Frano Illia had translated the seventh volume of the voluminous work “Ylliricum Sacrum”, a work that had cost him seven years of uninterrupted work, which he submitted together with “Kanun” to the Institute of Studies of Popular Culture in Tirana and that did not return to you. Convinced of the great importance he would have in the field of Albanian Ethnography “Kanuni”, encouraged by some of his friends, Frano is forced to write a letter to Ramiz Alia, starting it from the city of Shkodra, where he lived temporarily. In this letter he wrote:
Letter from Dom Frano Illias, addressed to Ramiz Alia
Comrade Ramiz Alia
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the ALP
I am signing Frano Illia, I address you as follows: As an external collaborator of the Ethnography sector, today the Institute of Popular Culture, I have collected, processed and codified according to legal criteria, “Kanun e Skënderbeut”, Kanun of central Albania: Dibër, Mat, Kruja etc., over 700 typed pages, medium format. In the autumn of 1967, the aforementioned paper was submitted to the Ethnography Sector Commission, with invited foreign lawyers, such as Emil Tedeski and Vangjel Meksi. This commission, after making its remarks and suggestions, gave the opinion that the paper be published. While we were implementing the remarks and suggestions, I was arrested and the unfinished work was deposited to be stored in the archive of the Sector. By special decree No. 7029, dated 9.4.1986, of the Presidium of the People’s Assembly of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, I was pardoned from the remaining sentence. On April 21, 1986, I addressed the Institute of Popular Culture to return my work, to complete and improve it. On May 28, 1986, the Institute responded negatively, telling me: “we bought it”. On December 2, 1986, I addressed the Prime Minister Sh. Adil Çarçani, who on September 26, 1986, replied that he had sent my letter to the Ministry of Education and Culture, for competence and response. On March 6, 1987, I was met by two heads of the Institute, one of them Abaz Dojaka, with whom I had known since I was working in the sector. They answered me verbally:
- To be known and to recognize the authorship.
- The work is not paid.
- The work has been deposited in the Archive of the Institute of Popular Culture for preservation.
- It will be given to give the final look when it is appointed for publication by the Academy.
After my insistence that the work be handed over to me, now to finish it and perfect it, since even at the age of 70 and with a collection of diseases, they told me: “we will think”! Since then and today, although I have asked for it and sometimes, no answer, neither negative nor positive. After knocking in vain on all possible doors, I have no choice but to address you, the highest authority. You asked for my work, as the parent asks for his child, I trust Comrade Ramiz, that my prayer, which seems to me quite reasonable and legal, be taken into consideration by you and with this trust, I sign with great honor.
Even after this letter sent to Ramiz Alia, Dom Frano Illia did not return the cure for his work, to which he had dedicated almost two decades. In the late 1980s, Frano stayed in the town of Milot, where many families helped him and kept him in their homes. With the fall of the communist regime and the re-establishment of religious beliefs, Dom Frano would re-engage in the service of the Catholic Clergy, and on November 11, 1990, he would hold his first Mass in his native village of Juban in Shkodra which would be followed by many of his fellow villagers and the surrounding villages.
What did he say to Dom Frano, the man who had testified in court?
After the ’90s, when Dom Frano, re-entered the hierarchy of the Catholic Clergy and was assigned to the city of Shkodra. But even at a young age, he would still continue his studies in the field of Ethnography. One day in his work office, an unknown man entered. The porter serving at the door informs Kolec Çefa (the well-known scholar), who worked next to Dom Franos, and he climbs up, where the stranger was sitting in the armchair opposite the old Monsignor. Regarding the conversation that took place between them, Kolec Çefa recalled:
The unknown man addressed you:
- “Does Monsignor Frano know me?”
- “I’m old,” Frano replies, “I started to forget.”
- “You are looking at me well, because you know me”, insisted the stranger.
- “If you do not remember me, you are telling me why you came,” he addresses Dom Frano.
- “How can I not remember you?!”We are well acquainted together”, insisted the stranger.
- “Do not bother me, I’m talking about your condition, what can I do to help?”
- “Do you know who I am”, insisted the stranger!
- “I came with him to ask for forgiveness, because I sentenced you to severe imprisonment, because I have lawsuits against you.”I came with him to ask for forgiveness”, the stranger addressed you.
- “Are you tried in vain, sir, because I forgave you for taking that moment, I’m talking about what you are doing”?
- “I have no problem, but you make it halal for me, that I have appeared as a witness in court, should I tell you my name so that I may remember who I am”, the unknown Franos addresses.
- “But I remembered the name with him, I also remembered the anger, but Christ does not allow us to remember the anger.”
- The unknown man seemed to be relieved of that heavy burden that had plagued him for so long. Then they continued the conversation amicably with each other “, testifies Kolec Çefa, who was present in this conversation.
Publication in Italy of the major work “Skanderbeg’s Kanun”
At the beginning of 1993, Dom Frano Illia was in Italy for treatment, after suffering from various diseases, and there he was helped by some of his friends and colleagues from the religious hierarchy, such as Dom Michelangelo Braga, parish priest of the Luigi Palazolo River Parish. ”In Vreshje and Father Daniel Gjeçaj, who raised donations and financial contributions by enabling the publication in Italy of the major work“ Skanderbeg’s Kanun ”, the novels“ Dava ”and“ Jesus ”, three works with over 700 pages. That same year, on April 25, 1993, shortly after he had returned from Italy, with his three published works, he would be ordained Archbishop of Shkodra, by Pope John Paul II himself, during his visit to only in Albania. But Dom Frano did not have the “opportunity” to exercise much during that high function of the religious hierarchy, as only four years later, on November 2, 1997, at 10:30 pm, in the hands of Dom Mikeli (Italian priest) in the cell of the Cathedral of Shkodra, he passed away. After his death, by decision of the Council of Ministers, relying on the scientific forums of the Sector of Albanology, Ethnographer, researcher, translator and prominent prose writer, he was awarded the title Professor. Memorie.al