For Pope Francis, May will be the month of Eastern Europe, in a continent called to breathe with “two lungs.” After the visit to Bulgaria and Macedonia on May 5-7, Francis is awaited in Romania from the 31st of the same month until June 2. In response to the invitation of Romania’s President, government authorities and dignitaries of the Catholic Church in Romania, Pope Francis will undertake an apostolic journey that will bring him to visit the cities of Bucharest, Iaşi and Blaj and the Marian Shrine of Șumuleu Ciuc, in an Orthodox-majority territory, where in 1999, exactly 20 years ago, John Paul II was welcomed by an unexpected cry that was recorded in history: “Unitate, Unitate”. The Catholic Church in Romania and the whole of society are eagerly looking forward to the Pope’s visit. “We are very pleased to welcome Pope Francis with the motto chosen for this journey: ‘Let us walk together’”, said Msgr. Ioan Robu, Archbishop of Bucharest and President of the Romanian Bishops’ Conference, interviewed by SIR on the ongoing preparations, on the sidelines of the meeting of the EU bishops delegates at the Assembly of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) in Brussels.
What does this motto mean for Romania?
In our Romanian society we have felt the need to walk together to overcome the divisions caused by egoism and by the clashes within political parties over the past years. The common good must guide our steps and the words of the Holy Father can help our Church, as well as our whole Romanian society, to undertake this new path. I am sure that his visit will be a gift not only for Catholics but for all Romanian people.
Which Romania will Pope Francis find?
I have often said that Romania is experiencing an unending transition. It is a Country that has not yet found its own course for the future. Unfortunately, politicians have not acted in the interests of the country. They have sought to meet their own interests or those of their political party. The Pope will find a divided Romania. Divided by politics. By political groups, above all.
What words do people expect to hear from the Pope?
Pope Francis is deeply loved not only by Catholics. He is loved by everyone. For non-Catholics, he represents a figure who calls for unity and for the need to make this unity visible for the good of all. The Pope is a gift. He confers on the other the image of God’s goodness, of His Mercy, of peace.
“Unitate. Unitate!”: these words were heard in the streets during the visit of John Paul II to Romania in 1999. It was the first Country with an Orthodox majority population. What are your memories of that day?
I was there. I was among those who heard that spontaneous cry shouted by all the people present. Unfortunately that cry did not proceed further. Our relations with the Orthodox Church did not advance as expected. At the time we dreamed more and had greater hopes. We woke up today in a reality we didn’t imagine back then, amidst tensions.
What happened to that cry?
That cry was never extinguished. I have not forgotten it. I think that that cry can still be fruitful today. It was like a seed sown in a soil that is waiting and has its own time to sprout. The fruits are not yet seen, but hope remains and God can always surprise us.
What will you show to Pope Francis?
The Holy Father’s journey begins in Bucharest with the visit to the President and the Orthodox Patriarch. Holy Mass will then be celebrated in the Catholic cathedral. On the second day he will visit the Marian shrine of Sumuleu Ciuc in the diocese of Alba Iulia. He will then proceed to visit the diocese of Iaşi and on Sunday the diocese of Blaj, where the ceremony for the beatification of seven martyr bishops is yet to be confirmed. In these dioceses the Pope will meet the local communities. We are a small minority, but we are a dynamic minority everywhere. I hope that in this apostolic journey the Pope will have the opportunity to see the beauty not only of our people but also of our country.
What do you expect from this visit? What do you hope for your Church and for your Country?
As a bishop and as a priest I hope that this visit will strengthen our faith and reinforce the awareness of our Catholic identity. This is very important for our small, minority communities. I also hope that it will mark a step forward in the relations with the Orthodox Church. I believe that, as occurred with the visit of John Paul II, the presence of Pope Francis in Romania is going to change above all the atmosphere of the Romanian soul. It will certainly be a gift and it will be a gift for everyone. It will encourage us.