By Elena Dini
ROME — Greater unity and fellowship among Christians is the main theme of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Romania, May 31-June 2. His visit comes 20 years after Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit the Central European country in 1999.
Pope Francis’ visit to Romania comes only a few weeks after his visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia where, among other things, he also insisted on the importance of ecumenical encounter.
Catholics in Romania are a small minority compared with the Orthodox majority. On May 31, Pope Francis will have a private meeting with Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel, followed by a meeting with members of the Orthodox Synod at the patriarchal palace.
The ecumenical aspect of this visit is a key element, evident from the logo: a group of people walking beneath the image of the Mother of God and the motto, “Let’s walk together.”
“All denominations, the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Hungarian, Romanian and German people present there will agree on his slogan, ‘Sa mergem’, ‘Let’s walk’,” said Lutheran Bishop Johann Schneider.
Bishop Schneider, a Lay Centre alumnus, was born in Romania and then emigrated to Germany, where he studied theology. He came to Rome in the 1990s to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical University of St. Anselm, and the Pontifical Oriental Institute. His area of study was justification by faith, Orthodox spirituality, and Orthodox canon law. Since 2012, he has been the Regional Bishop of Halle and Wittenberg in the Lutheran Church in Central Germany.
“Pope Francis honours the ecumenical communion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church by visiting Romania,” he said.
“In my eyes, he sticks his finger into the open wound of the precarious social conditions experienced by the people in the country, particularly those of the Roma people. His beatification of the Greek Catholic martyr-bishops is a sign of recognition of the suffering and persecution during the atheistic period of Romanian state-communism,” he said, referring to the two main events of June 2, the meeting with members of the Roma community and the beatification ceremony of the seven bishops.
The Greek Catholic Church was heavily persecuted under the communist regime, and in 1948, it was suppressed. For this church, which greatly suffered not many decades ago, “the Holy Father’s arrival here is for us a sign of huge love, hope and confirmation in faith,” said Monsignor Claudiu Pop, curial bishop of the Romanian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of F?g?ra? and Alba Iulia,to Vatican News.
“Twenty years ago, we received Holy Father John Paul II’s visit and, on that occasion, believers started to spontaneously shout — Catholics and Orthodox together — ‘unitate, unitate.’ Therefore, the Holy Father’s presence made spontaneously flow from their heart the wish of unity,” he added. Monsignor Pop said he believes Pope Francis’ visit will unfold in the same way.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendìa, apostolic nuncio in Romania, also commented on the theme of the pope’s visit.
“The invitation is exactly to walk all together — Orthodox, Catholics, people who belong to minorities or to the majority, of different political parties — to build together the country,” he said.
He also mentioned the common Marian devotion among Catholic and Orthodox Christians, stating: “The mother unites the children.”