Pope Francis will arrive in Romania on Friday.
For 3 days, in May 1999, Bucharest was the centre of the Christian world. This is when Pope John Paul II came to Romania, the first Slavic Pope to visit for the first time a mostly Orthodox country. “By the grace of God, after the winter of communist domination, the spring of hope has come,” John Paul II said in Bucharest.
Twenty years on, another Sovereign Pontiff is making an apostolic visit to Romania. Between May 31st and June 2nd, Pope Francis will travel to all of present-day Romania’s provinces, Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, will have meetings with public officials, Orthodox Church leaders and regular people. Here is Romania’s ambassador to the Holy See, Prof. Liviu-Petru Zapartan:
Liviu-Petru Zapartan: “It will be a historic visit without any doubt. It follows another visit, by Pope John Paul II, which is remembered with a lot of love after 20 years. I am certain that it will come with a call to preserve our national identity, our unity as a European nation. Then there are the strong ties between Romanians and Rome, and this has to do not only with our Latin roots, with the neo-Latin language that we speak today, but also with the strong spiritual connections that Romanians have always had with Italy and the Vatican. I would mention the example of the Transylvanian School, the cultural movement that was largely the creation of the Greek-Catholic Church. This movement, emerging in the 1700, promoted the identity of the Romanian language, of our neo-Latin culture, and was the catalyst of our national consciousness, which in turn gave rise to political action among the Romanians in Transylvania aimed at the union with Romania.”
In Bucharest, Pope Francis will meet on Friday with top-level public officials and the Orthodox Church Synod, will pray in the new Orthodox cathedral and will perform a mass at the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral.
On Saturday, the Pope will travel to the Marian Shrine in Sumuleu-Ciuc, in eastern Transylvania, a region inhabited mostly by ethnic Hungarians. The second day of the visit will end in Iasi, in the north-east, home to a sizeable Catholic community. Pope Francis will visit the local Roman Catholic Cathedral and will have talks with young people and families. Roman-Catholic Bishop Petru Gherghel sees the Supreme Pontiff’s presence in Iasi as the fulfilment of a dream of both the Catholic Romanians in Moldavia, and of Pope John Paul II:
Petru Gherghel: “We have known His Holiness for some time, we have seen how he welcomes everybody, how he turns to all the families in the diaspora or to emigrants. What His Holiness does translates perfectly into the motto of this visit, ‘Let’s walk together’, which means let’s cultivate this culture of dialogue, of closeness.”
On Sunday, the last day of the visit, Pope Francis will be in Blaj, the Greek-Catholic heart of Transylvania, to lead a ceremony beatifying 7 Romanian Greek-Catholic bishops who died for their faith during the communist era. Tens of thousands of believers will attend a Byzantine liturgy in Romanian, presided over by Pope Francis, who will nonetheless perform in Latin. The decision for the beatification service to be performed by the Pope himself is a proof of appreciation for the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, deprived of its assets and dismantled by the communist regime. Here is the Auxiliary Bishop of Blaj, Claudiu Pop:
Claudiu Pop: “The beatification of the Greek-Catholic bishops, undertaken by Pope Francis personally, is an extraordinary gesture, following the example of His Holiness John Paul II, who was very close to the persecuted churches in Eastern Europe. He was personally aware of and familiar with the situation, which is why we always felt this outstanding warm-heartedness coming from him. We feel the same kind of warm-heartedness from Pope Francis, although in a different context; when we talk about his visit to Romania, the invitation to Blaj and beatification, he said simply, ‘I will come and do this’.”
Another highlight of the visit is on Sunday, also in Blaj, when Pope Francis has a meeting with members of the Roma community.
(translated by: Ana-Maria Popescu)