“This visit by Pope Francis is in continuity with the visit of John Paul II in 1999. That same atmosphere can be found today, because today Francis is welcomed by the same people. A people that can be defined with two key words: hospitality and welcome.” Father Teleanu Bogdan-Aurel, from the Press Office of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate, described to SIR the climate in the Orthodox world ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Romania. The Pope will be received in the Romanian Patriarchal Palace on the same day of his arrival to Bucharest on 31 May for a private meeting with Patriarch Daniel, followed by a meeting with members of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church. He will then be received at the national cathedral with recitation of prayers. Our Father was chosen as the main prayer. “Our Patriarch Daniel – said Fr Teleanu Bogdan-Aurel – was present during the visit to Romania of John Paul II. He has a good knowledge of the West-European world and also of the Roman Catholic Church. He is very open to this dialogue and to this sentiment of hospitality. He will welcome the Pope with this spirit.”
On 9 May 1999, exactly twenty years ago, in Podul Izvor Park in Bucharest, at the end of the Eucharistic celebration officiated by Pope Wojtyla in the presence of Patriarch Teoctist, Catholics and Orthodox unexpectedly raised a cry: ” Unitate, unitate” (unity, unity). Those images made history, along with the journey of a Pope – John Paul II – who for the first time visited a country with an Orthodox majority. Even then Father Teleanu Bogdan-Aurel was working in the press office. He fondly remembers that moment. “It was a strong message of unity”, he said. “I remember that people were singing a Psalm of the Romanian tradition when that cry, ‘unitate’, was heard.
The symbiosis of people calling for unity and people singing, ‘God (is) with us!’, was a beautiful moment.
I also vividly recall the Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Patriarch Teoctist in Unirii Square together with the members of the Holy Synod and in the presence of the Pope, and the embrace between John Paul II and the Patriarch. I was struck by their age, I felt it was a sign of infinite wisdom.” In his farewell speech to Romania John Paul II said: “You who have been freed from the nightmare of communist dictatorship, do not let yourselves be deceived by the false and dangerous dreams of consumerism. They also destroy the future. Jesus enables you to dream of a new Romania, a land where East and West can meet in brotherhood. This Romania is entrusted to your hands. Boldly build it together. The Lord is entrusting it to you.” In 2002, Patriarch Teoctist reciprocated that visit by paying a visit to John Paul II in Rome. On that occasion, the two religious leaders signed a “Common declaration” in which they reiterated the commitment “to pray and to work to achieve the full and visible unity of all the disciples of Christ. Our aim and our ardent desire is full communion, which is not absorption but communion in truth and love. It is an irreversible journey for which there is no alternative: it is the path of the Church.”
Twenty years have gone by and that aspiration to unity “is a priority in the agenda of all institutions, religious and non-religious alike”, remarked Father Teleanu Bogdan-Aurel. However, it is indeed a challenging goal.
“We are the challenge. We with our sins, our individualism, our secularisation.”
He added: “We deeply appreciate Pope Francis’ message of fraternity. We received it and we are committed along the same lines. The world is struggling with so many problems, with poverty and the consequences of poverty in people’s lives. We are all called to work for the unity of the whole human race, for solidarity, for peace.” The cleric described the extent of the commitment of the Orthodox Church of Romania to be close to and supportive of families, taking care above all of the children who are left alone in the country because their mothers and fathers are forced to go abroad to work and remit money home. They are called the “white orphans”: 350,000 according to estimates, with more than a third (126,000) of them deprived of both parents and 400,000 having experienced, at some point in their lives, a form of loneliness. Thus
out of 5 million Romanian children, 750,000 are more or less violently affected by the departure of their parents.
Furthermore, here too, the migration phenomenon is knocking at the doors of parishes.
Which words do you expect from Pope Francis? “At this moment, everyone – Catholics and Orthodox – needs courage,” replied Father Teleanu. “I remember the words of John Paul II: do not be afraid. I believe that this message remains the foundation of unity and the pathway for Christians to bring fruits of peace and solidarity throughout the world and in our country.”