Twenty years after the historic visit by Pope St. John Paul II to the “Garden of the Mother of God”, Pope Francis will travel to Romania from 31 May to 2 June. The motto of the visit is “Let’s Walk Together”. Pope St. John Paul II used the phrase “Garden of the Mother of God” in 1999, during the first address of his visit to Romania. In fact historically it dates back to the appearance of Our Lady in 1498 in Bisericani in the north of the country.
Having recently celebrated the centenary of its independence, Romania has changed greatly since the last papal visit.
Unfortunately the country’s path has been lined with difficulties. In their search for better living and working conditions more than three million Romanians are estimated to have left their native land.
With its population of around 20 million, Romania is a country of considerable cultural and religious diversity. Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Turks, Bulgarians, Roma, Serbs, Poles, Ukrainians and Armenians live alongside each other in a very delicate equilibrium that sometimes is marked by tensions. The majority of the population are Orthodox Christians (80%), followed by Protestants (6%) and Catholics (only 4%); these are members of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Rite Church, including adherents to the Greek-Catholic faith, Maronites and Armenians.
Pope Francis will give to his pastoral visit a strongly ecumenical and Marian accent, devoting as much time as possible to meeting the Catholic community, but without ignoring the characteristics and particularities of this socio-cultural and religious mosaic that are too complex for a brief visit of less than three days.
The highlight of this visit will be on Sunday, when a meeting is scheduled with representatives of the Romanian Church United with Rome. In the city of Blaj, the historic seat of the Greek-Catholic Church, the Holy Father will celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine rite and lead the ceremony to beatify seven Greek-Catholic bishop-martyrs who were victims of the communist regime.
Pope Francis would like to honour and to thank the witness to faith of the Greek-Catholic Church. It has paid a high price for its fidelity to the Holy Father and was persecuted for 41 years; its wounds have still not been healed today.
The beatification ceremony will take place in the “Field of Liberty” (Câmpia Libertăţii), a symbolic backdrop and site of several key moments in Romanian history.
After lunch Pope Francis will meet members of the Roma community from Blaj. According to estimates, around 600,000 Roma live in Romania, corresponding to 3% of the country’s population.
The Pew Research Center reported that a majority of the Romanian people expressed support for reunification of the Eastern and Western Churches. In the course of this historic visit we anticipate a number of gestures with a strongly meaningful message that in the long term will help to reduce still existing tensions between the different communities and strengthen the ecumenical dialogue and common approach to unity.
Exactly twenty years ago, at the end of a mass celebrated in Izvor Park, there was a historic embrace between the Romanian patriarch Teoctist and Pope St. John Paul II, amid mutual cries of “Unity!” from Catholics and Orthodox Christians. This year’s visit by Pope Francis can quicken this desire for unity not only of the Romanian people, but of all Christians who still endure the division of their Churches.
GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH – BEATIFICATION OF SEVEN BISHOPS
Pope Paul VI appointed him a cardinal “in pectore” (a term denoting a papal appointment made in secret and not promulgated). His appointment was not made public until 1973, three years after his death. He was bishop of the Greek-Catholic eparchy of Gherla in Transylvania. On 28 October 1948 he was arrested by the communist government and deported to Dragoslavele. He was later taken to Căldărușani monastery and subsequently to the notorious Sighet prison. Having been held in several other penitentiaries, he was brought back to Căldărușani monastery. He remained imprisoned until his death, at the age of 85, on 28 May 1970.
He was Bishop of Făgăraș and Alba Iulia (Ulpiana). He was arrested by the communist authorities on 28 October 1948, being taken first to Dragoslavele and then to the concentration camp at Căldărușani monastery, where he was tortured and mutilated. Finally he was moved to Văcărești prison, where he died, aged 50, on 10 May 1950.
VALERIU TRAIAN FRENTIU
He was Bishop of Oradea and later Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Alba Iulia and Făgăraș. He was arrested by the communist regime on 28 October 1948. He was taken to Dragoslavele concentration camp, then to Căldărușani monastery, which served as a prison, and, from 1950 onwards, was held in Sighet prison. There he succumbed to the harsh conditions, dying, aged 77, on 11 July 1952. His body was buried in a mass grave without the blessing of the Church.
He was arrested on 28 October 1948 together with other priests and bishops and taken to Neamț monastery. He was later moved to the monastery used as a prison at Căldărușani, where he was secretly ordained as a bishop on 3 December 1949 by another bishop who was also imprisoned there. When the communist authorities got wind of his ordination the newly consecrated bishop was transferred to Sighet prison. There he became seriously ill as a consequence of forced labour and starvation. He died of hypothermia on 15 January 1955 and was buried in a mass grave. He was 55.
Ioan Suciu was Auxiliary Bishop of Oradea and later Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Alba Iulia and Făgăraș, together with Bishop Valeriu Traian Frenţiu. He was arrested on 28 October 1948 and suffered the same fate as the other bishops: he was imprisoned first in Dragoslavele, then in Căldărușani monastery. In 1950 he was transferred to Sighet prison, where he suffered illness, hunger, torture and solitary confinement. He died on 27 June 1953 and was buried in a mass grave. He was 45.
He was ordained Bishop of Lugoj in 1936 and was later appointed as metropolitan. He was arrested on 28 October 1948 and imprisoned first in Dragoslavele and later in Căldărușani monastery. In May 1950 he was transferred to Sighet prison. In 1956 he was taken to Ciorogârla monastery, where he became seriously ill and died on 4 August 1959, aged 79.
He was Bishop of Maramureș and member of the Metropolitan Chapter. On 28 October 1948 the communist authorities deported him to Dragoslavele and later, like other Catholic bishops, to Căldărușani monastery and the notorious Sighet prison. He was subsequently moved to other prisons, fell ill, and died on 9 May 1963. He was 78.