“I ask forgiveness – in the name of the Church and of the Lord – “all those times in history when we have discriminated, mistreated or looked askance at you.” The historic “mea culpa” marked the conclusion of Pope Francis‘ 30th international journey, 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and 20 years after the first-ever papal visit – by Saint John Paul II – to an Orthodox-majority country. Romania has a population of 20 million people, 80% of whom are Orthodox, and Catholicism is a minority religion, representing 7% of the faithful. Yet it breathes with two lungs, with its Latin-rite and Greek-rite Churches. Never before had a pontiff asked for forgiveness for the Roma community, whom he met in Blaj during the last leg of his journey: “Deep down we are not Christians, and not even good human beings, unless we are able to see the person before his or her actions, before our own judgments and prejudices.” Throughout the course of history humanity had to choose between Cain and Abel, between the “civilization of hate” and fraternity, between filling in trenches rather than roads, Francis said during his visit, whose landmark snapshots include the Lord’s prayer with Patriarch Daniel – individually but with a common liturgy in Latin followed by Romanian – and the beatification of seven Greek Catholic bishops who were martyred under the communist regime. Not to mention a crowd of 100 thousand people, mostly of Hungarian origin, who withstood the mud and rain in order to attend the Mass celebrated by the first Pope to visit Transylvania, in the Marian shrine of Sumuleu-Ciuc.
No more barriers and prejudice. “In Christ’s Church, there is room for everyone”, the Pope said in his address to the Roma community of Blaj, some 60 people gathered in the new church devoted to St. Andrew the Apostle and the Blessed Ioan Suciu, in the Barbu Lăutaru neighbourhood. Francis feels the burden of discrimination, segregation and ill-treatment suffered by a people too often ignored by history, even by Catholics. “Indifference breeds prejudices and fosters anger and resentment”, he said right after the “mea culpa.”
“How many times do we judge rashly, with words that sting, with attitudes that sow hatred and division! Whenever anyone is left behind, the human family cannot move forward.”
“May we not let ourselves be dragged along by the hurts we nurse within us; let there be no room for anger.” The appeal of His Holiness: “For one evil never corrects another evil, no vendetta ever satisfies an injustice, no resentment is ever good for the heart and no rejection will ever bring us closer to others.” In keeping with the motto of the visit, the invitation is “to journey together, in helping to build a more humane world, overcoming fear and suspicion, breaking down the barriers that separate us from others.”
Continue the struggle. A few hours earlier, presiding over the Divine Liturgy in the Field of Liberty in Blaj, albeit not explicitly mentioning the word “communism”, the Pope referred to the 50 years of dictatorship to which Romania was subjected. This was also the place where many Greek-Catholics were persecuted or killed in 1948 for having refused to join the Orthodox Church. Among them were the seven martyred bishops he beatified, all persecuted and imprisoned by a “dictatorial and atheistic regime.” “Continue, like these Beati, to resist these new ideologies now springing up”, his message to the Romanian people.
“Today, too, we witness the appearance of new ideologies that in a subtle way attempt to assert themselves and to uproot our peoples from their richest cultural and religious traditions”, Francis said, warning against “forms of ideological colonization that devalue the person, life, marriage and the family, with alienating proposals as atheistic as those of the past.”
Culture of encounter. “Building an inclusive society” is the task entrusted to the land that John Paul II had named “the Garden of the Mother of God.” “Only to the extent that a society is concerned for its most disadvantaged members, can it be considered truly civil”: this was the theme of Francis’ first address to public authorities in Bucharest. “We need to help one another not to yield to the seductions of a culture of hate, a culture of individualism – was his appeal during the meeting with the Permanent Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church – that, perhaps no longer ideological as in the time of the atheist persecution, is nonetheless more persuasive and no less materialist.”
“We need to find the strength to leave the past behind us and, together, embrace the present”,
was the invitation before saying the Lord’s Prayer in the New Orthodox Cathedral in Bucharest.
“Culture of encounter” is not only the essence of ecumenism but also the focal term of the Mass in the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Joseph following the example of Mary and of “all those many women, mothers and grandmothers of these lands who, by their quiet sacrifices, devotion and self-denial, are shaping the present and preparing the way for tomorrow’s dreams.”
“Let not let ourselves be robbed of our fraternal love by those voices and hurts that provoke division and fragmentation”, the Pope said at the Marian Shrine of Sumuleu-Ciuc. We must “commit ourselves to ensuring that the stragglers of yesterday can become the protagonists of tomorrow, and that today’s protagonists do not become tomorrow’s strugglers.”
“The Evil one divides, scatters, separates; he sows discord and distrust. He wants us to live “detached” from others and from ourselves”, the Pope said during the meeting with youths and families in Iasi: “We belong to each other and our happiness is meant to make others happy. Everything else is nonsense.”
“The worst comes when we see more trenches than roads”,
was Francis’ cry of alarm.