Pope urges Romanians to work together to confront challenges

Friday, May 31, 2019

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Pope Francis began a three-day pilgrimage to Romania on Friday that in many ways is completing the 1999 trip by St. John Paul II that marked the first-ever papal visit to a majority Orthodox country.

Francis referred to that historic trip during his opening speech before Romanian government authorities, praising the progress the once-communist country has achieved since it was “liberated from a regime that oppressed civil and religious liberty.”

But he warned that Romanians must come together even more now to confront today’s challenges, noting the huge numbers of people who leave the country each year in search of jobs, depopulating entire villages and weakening the roots of Romanian culture.

“Only to the extent that a society is concerned for its most disadvantaged members, can it be considered truly civil,” he said.

Key moments during Francis’ trip are his Mass for the largely Hungarian-speaking Roman Catholic faithful at the country’s most famous Marian shrine, Sumuleu Ciuc, in eastern Transylvania. He will also beatify seven Greek-Catholic bishops who were martyred during communist rule, when Catholics were brutally persecuted.

Francis was also meeting Friday with the leadership of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the latest of his foreign trips to poor countries where Catholics are a minority. In Romania, they are a divided minority between two Catholic rites, Roman Catholic and Greek-Catholic.

“I’m coming to you to walk together,” Francis said in a video released on the eve of his trip.

Francis and Patriarch Daniel, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church, are to each recite the Our Father prayer in the Orthodox Cathedral, a towering new construction funded in part by a $200,000 donation by John Paul when he visited in 1999.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti stressed that while the two religious leaders would physically be praying in the same place, they would not pray together, an important distinction for many Orthodox. Ordinary faithful were expected, in sharp contrast to Francis’ recent visit to Bulgaria, when he was allowed to pray in the Orthodox cathedral in Sofia, but alone.

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