Pope Francis visits Romania

The Pope’s visit to Romania for the weekend 31st May-2nd June seemed to really catch the imagination of the country and thus attracted unusual media attention. On 11th May, the Congregation of Jesus sisters, who have a large convent in Popesti Leordeni just outside Bucuresti, hosted the first of a number of live TV programmes. The atmosphere was similar to that of a Garden Party in an FCJ school! There were games, the Catholic choir which was later to sing for the Pope… and a sort of MasterChef competition to create one of the Pope’s favourite meals. This was later served to a delighted crowd of more than 700.

Members of the FCJ Community in Bucureşti waiting for Pope Francis

Later when Pope Francis actually arrived in Romania several TV channels gave uninterrupted coverage, something unusual here. In total Roman Catholics and Eastern Rite Catholics account for about 6% of the population. The fact that all schools were closed in the capital on Friday 31st reflects the level of importance given to the Pope’s arrival. In our community we watched the Pope arrive at the airport on television and then rushed out to the main road. We had quite a clear view of his smile as he seemed to wave directly towards us.

Sr Gabriela fcJ had set off for the city’s new Orthodox Cathedral where she was part of the Catholic choir. The point to grasp about this meeting between Pope Francis and the Romanian Patriarch Daniel was the powerful oecumenical message. The fact that the ‘Our Father’ was said in both Latin and Romanian caused some controversy but not enough to dampen the desire for “unitate”. Pope Francis gave a beautiful explanation of the prayer. Gabriela felt that the Catholic and Orthodox choirs were also able to demonstrate a perfect synchronicity. She experienced a palpable fraternity in the music flowing between the two choirs.

Catholic choir at Pope Francis‘ visit to the Orthodox Cathedral. Sr Gabriela fcJ was part of this choir (2nd row, 6th from left)

We were all in separate places for the Mass celebrated by the Pope in Bucureşti Catholic Cathedral. Some of us had tickets to be inside, and others were able to follow from the giant screens erected for the coverage. It was the feast of the Visitation of Our Lady to her cousin Elizabeth, and accordingly the theme of Pope Francis‘ homily was “Journey, Encounter, Joy”. We heard that the Pope held a private meeting with the Jesuits at the nunciature later that evening. The photos seen indicate that it was fairly relaxed. Surely, a much needed rest after a day under the constant glare of cameras!

Saturday saw Pope Francis on the move to the shrine of Șumuleu Ciuc, where he celebrated Mass and urged Romanian and ethnic Hungarian faithful to work together for their future. Storms had forced Francis to change his travel plans and add in a three-hour car ride through the Carpathian mountains as the helicopter flight was impossible. In his homily at this shrine of Șumuleu Ciuc, Francis praised the multicultural and multilingual tapestry that makes up Romania and urged its people to put aside past divisions for the sake of journeying together.

Complicated and sorrow-filled situations from the past must not be forgotten or denied, yet neither must they be an obstacle or an excuse standing in the way of our desire to live together as brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis

After Mass, with the weather improved, Francis was able to fly by helicopter back to the airport for a flight to another corner in the N.E. of Romania, the university city of Iasi, Romania’s second largest city. There he had an appointment with young Romanians. Families welcomed Pope Francis in the square in front of the Palace of Culture in Iași. Drawing on the journeying together theme of his Romanian visit, the Holy Father stressed that journeying together was a beautiful gift — but he admitted it isn’t always easy. He emphasized the importance of the elderly in sharing their wisdom and experience with the young. He reminded us that when we grow up, not to forget our mother and our grandmother, and the simple but robust faith that gave them the strength and tenacity to keep going and not to give up. That is a reason for us to give thanks and to ask for the generosity, courage, and selflessness of a “home-grown” faith that is unobtrusive, yet slowly but surely builds up the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis referred to Mihai Eminescu, a national poet.

It is like those beautiful words of your national poet, whose fond wish for your sweet Romania was that ‚your children might live only in fraternity, like the stars of the night‘

Pope Francis quoting Mihai Eminescu

Pope Francis concluded by saying that we belong to each other and our happiness is meant to make others happy. Everything else is nonsense. An elderly lady holding a two month old baby caught the Pope’s attention and led him to utter many touching words. In Iași the Pope also met people with disabilities including a lady who suffers from MS and has been on our prayer list. She is unusually serene and an inspiration to all who meet her.

Sr Mary fcJ was able to attend the beatification Mass for the seven Greek Catholic bishop martyrs in Blaj, the Greek Catholic centre. Many people regarded this as the culminating point of the visit. The Mass attended by more than 100,000 took place in the aptly named Field of Freedom. Mary travelled with 100 parishioners from the French and Romanian speaking communities of our parish. Mary has close ties to the Greek Catholic community and had been asked to translate the biographies of the bishops for a brochure and so felt very privileged to attend this ceremony. Pope Francis had one final appointment … with the Roma community in the region. Everyone marvelled at his undiminished gift of self. In this final encounter on Romanian soil he asked for forgiveness for its former attitude and treatment of this community.

Finally, there was a Mass of Thanksgiving in gratitude for the visit and for the hard work of hundreds of volunteers. (A private audience has already taken place in Rome where the Pope was able to thank the main organizers.) At the Mass of Thanksgiving here all volunteers received meaningful souvenirs and there was a raffle for a fully paid trip to Rome for a general audience in autumn. The visit of Pope Francis will be remembered as uplifting, unifying and offering a future full of hope. He encourages us all to move towards the other in love. Our country has lived through an unexpectedly rich and powerful time of communion and unity. May it continue!

Submitted by the FCJ Community in Bucuresti