Romania, where over 80% of the population is Orthodox. A “wounded but proud” people, “full of humanity”, that knows how to embrace “every message of goodness” and “treasure it in order to bring fruits of hope into this world.” We asked the Romanian Orthodox diocese of Italy about the expectations of the Romanian Orthodox world with regard to Pope Francis’ visit to Romania. Father Gheorghe Militaru, from the Department for Public Relations, answered our questions. The number of Romanians of the Orthodox Church in Italy has greatly increased since Romania’s accession to the European Union numbering over one million, making it the largest Orthodox community in Italy. In the light of its dimensions, 12 years ago, in 2007, the Orthodox Romanian community of Italy was officially established. It currently includes 20 deaneries, 250 parishes, 4 monasteries, 2 hermitages, 5 diocesan chapels and 2 missionary pastoral centres (Termoli and Bari). A living reality served throughout the country by 275 diocesan clerics, of which 260 priests and 15 deacons. The Pope will arrive in Bucharest on 31 May and will depart from Sibiu on 2 June. As soon as he lands, he will meet the Orthodox Patriarch Daniel in the Patriarchate Building, followed by a visit to the permanent Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, in the new Orthodox Cathedral. “It must be made clear – said Father Militaru – that the Pope’s visit to Romania has the status of a ‘State Visit’, having been requested and organized by State authorities. This of course does not diminish the pastoral value of this visit.”
What Country will Pope Francis find?
As we all know, even though it is an Orthodox-majority Country, Romania is marked by a plurality of religious expressions, Christian and non-Christian alike, among these the Roman-Catholic and Greek-Catholic denominations hold a prominent position. That being said, it should be noted that despite small and large differences in the creed, all Romanians belong to the same social reality that paradoxically reflects two opposite paths of development: the economic-industrial development, which enriches a few, and conversely, the decadence of another part (perhaps the most numerous). Due to this socio-economic impoverishment, fostered by the illusion of a better, richer world, many Romanians leave the Country to seek fortune in other countries ( such as Italy), causing the depopulation of a nation that stood as a focal point of attraction for rulers’ armies for thousands of years owing to its culture and natural resources.
The Pope will find a wounded but proud people; a people which, as its history shows, has managed to rise from its ruins and rebuild itself starting with the pillar of its unity of “faith” and “nation.”
In 1999, exactly 20 years ago, John Paul II was greeted by an unexpected cry that has gone down in history, “Unitate, unitate.” It was an unexpected historic event. What do you remember of that day and that cry?
Ten years had not yet passed since the events of December 1989 when Pope John Paul II visited Romania. The climate was completely different from today. The visit of the Bishop of Rome was organized in conjunction by the State apparatus and the Romanian Orthodox Church, which represents the confessional majority (over 80% of the population). The social climate had another face or, more precisely, another hope. After decades of communist dictatorship there was an air of freedom in the country: it was driven by a strong desire for rebirth, by a yearning for recovery – in moral as well as economic terms. The first decade after the revolution was the period of dreams: everyone wanted to contribute to restoring the nation’s splendour and wealth that had been annihilated by communism. This enthusiasm could be felt everywhere.
And John Paul II perceived this climate of rebirth. Why unity?
The visit of John Paul II, who as we all know contributed significantly to the fall of communism, was also seen as an encouragement not to stand still, not to cry over the memories of a painful past but to find the strength to rise again and build a better world. This euphoric thrust towards a better future was clearly accompanied by a desire for unity. You see, regardless of fanatical positions, the Orthodox Church has always sought Unity and there is a strong desire to see the Church of Christ united. The invocation to the unity of faith is systematically present in prayer: from the Divine Liturgy to the smallest, but not insignificant, ritual celebration. It is clear that, as John Paul II himself reaffirmed, unity is built in charity and truth.
The people knew that truth would come, but they all rejoiced of the unity in charity; at least of that visible unity.
After 20 years, what has happened to that aspiration to the unity of the Churches and peoples?
First of all, the Romanian Orthodox Church is faithful and obedient to the word of the Gospel and especially to the prayer of Christ himself in Gethsemane, before His passion. A plea to the Father: “… that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you”. (John, 17:20-26). Secondly, yesterday as today, the Orthodox Church is committed to work for unity, which is the best response to a world – especially the Western world- which has proclaimed the death of God; to a society that no longer recognizes the fountainhead of its values and which has elected itself as the guardian of goodness. This contemporary “culture” which, like the Tower of Babel, rises arrogantly to the heights of its pride, will collapse on itself because it has stripped its very foundations, its Christian roots.
Now more than ever unity represents an answer of salvation and hope.
But for the Romanian Orthodox Church, as for the whole Orthodox Pleroma, unity is conditioned by the Truth of faith, for, as Jesus says in the Gospel of John: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). So that which gives meaning to the world, to life, to history, is not what appears but what saves, it is the Truth, Christ himself is salvation. For us Christians all this represents the mystical beauty that embraces everything and everyone in a liturgical symphony: “beauty will save the world”, as Solov’ev says.
What are the expectations and hopes for this visit? Will Pope Francis be able to touch the hearts of Romanians?
The Romanian people know how to recognize goodness, regardless of where it comes from. They know how to treasure a good word, a word of hope, regardless of the authority that proclaims it. They know how to welcome the stranger and the needy, without asking him his religion , or where he comes from. This openness led them to be called “Humane”, a term translated from Romanian that does not describe its full scope (in Romanian “omenie”, i.e. full of humanity.) But it is also a people that knows how to fight and die for its faith, for its country. We believe that Romania will embrace every message of goodness and hope. And on the grounds of its own cultural heritage and faith, integrated with everything that does good and is true goodness, they will treasure it to bring fruits of hope into this world that, after all, is inhabited by us but belongs to God, and we Romanians want to give glory to God for every good thing bestowed.