On his last day in Romania, Francis beatified seven Greek Catholic bishops, martyred under the Communist regime. “May you be witnesses of freedom and mercy, allowing fraternity and dialogue to prevail over divisions, and fostering the fraternity of blood that arose in the period of suffering, when Christians, historically divided, drew closer and more united to one another.”
Bucharest (AsiaNews) – On his last day in Romania, Pope Francis visited the city of Blaj, in Transylvania. The highlight of his visit in the morning was the beatification of seven Romanian Greek Catholic bishops. The pontiff used the occasion to slam the ongoing cultural “colonisation” and oppose the "new ideologies" that “devalue the person, life, marriage and the family [. . .] with alienating proposals as atheistic as those of the past”, which deny especially young people their cultural and religious roots, and make everything irrelevant “unless it serves our immediate interests”.
Blaj is the heart of the Greek-Catholic Church, that is to say the Romanian Orthodox community that in 1700 decided to become Catholic, whilst keeping its rituals. Even today the Mass follows the same tradition, a solemn rite in front of more than 60,000 people who filled every corner of the ‘Field of Liberty’, as the large square is aptly called, too small for all the faithful. Hundreds of priests are present.
On this occasion, the Pope proclaimed blessed seven bishops, victims of the persecution of the Communist regime: Mgr Iuliu Hossu, Mgr Vasile Aftenie, Mgr Ioan Bălan, Mgr Valeriu Traian Frenţiu, Mgr Ioan Suciu, Mgr Tit Liviu Chinezu, and Mgr Alexandru Rusu. Their story began in 1948. In Romania, as in all other countries under Soviet control, the Communist regime sought to erase the Catholic Church because of its uncontrollable link with Rome.
Everywhere, nunciatures were closed, as were seminaries, religious homes, parishes, schools. Associations were created to incorporate Catholic believers and priests on the orders of the regime. Where Eastern Catholic Churches existed, like in Ukraine and Romania, the authorities tried to integrate them into local Orthodox Churches, more malleable because they were national Churches.
The Greek-Catholic Church of Romania had a million and a half members, little more than half remains. Stripped of all resources, she was legally dissolved and her faithful "passed" to the Orthodox. But the bishops were greatest obstacle to integration. They were asked to break with Rome. They received blandishments and threats. Faced with a firm refusal, the regime responded with prison, privations and tortures that led to death. Mgr Aftenie’s body was found without arms.
“In the face of fierce opposition from the regime, they demonstrated an exemplary faith and love for their people. With great courage and interior fortitude, they accepted harsh imprisonment and every kind of mistreatment, in order not to deny their fidelity to their beloved Church. These pastors, martyrs for the faith, re-appropriated and handed down to the Romanian people a precious legacy that we can sum up in two words: freedom and mercy.
“With regard to freedom, I cannot help but note that we are celebrating this Divine Liturgy in the “Field of Liberty”. This place, filled with meaning, evokes the unity of your people, which is found in the diversity of its religious expressions. All these things constitute a spiritual patrimony that enriches and distinguishes Romanian culture and national identity. The new Beati endured suffering and gave their lives to oppose an illiberal ideological system that oppressed the fundamental rights of the human person. In that tragic period, the life of the Catholic community was put to a harsh test by a dictatorial and atheistic regime. All the Bishops and faithful of the Greek-Catholic Church and those of the Latin-rite Catholic Church were persecuted and imprisoned.
“The other aspect of the spiritual legacy of the new Beati is mercy. Their tenacity in professing fidelity to Christ was matched by their readiness to suffer martyrdom without showing hatred towards their persecutors and indeed responding to them with great meekness. The words spoken by Bishop Iuliu Hossu during his imprisonment are eloquent: “God has sent us into this darkness of suffering in order to offer forgiveness and to pray for the conversion of all”. These words are the symbol and synthesis of the attitude with which these Beati, at the time of testing, sustained their people in confessing the faith without compromise or retaliation. The mercy they showed to their tormentors is a prophetic message, for it invites everyone today to conquer anger and resentment by love and forgiveness, and to live the Christian faith with consistency and courage.
“Dear brothers and sisters, today, too, we witness the appearance of new ideologies that quietly attempt to assert themselves and to uproot our peoples from their richest cultural and religious traditions. Forms of ideological colonization that devalue the person, life, marriage and the family (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 40), and above all, with alienating proposals as atheistic as those of the past, harm our young people and children, leaving them without roots from which they can grow (cf. Christus Vivit, 78). Everything then becomes irrelevant unless it serves our immediate interests; people are led to take advantage of others and treat them as mere objects (cf. Laudato Si’, 123-124). Those voices, by sowing fear and division, seek to cancel and bury the best that the history of these lands have bequeathed to you. I think, for example, of the Edict of Torda in 1568, which forbade all forms of radicalism and was one of the first in Europe to promote an act of religious tolerance.
“I would like to encourage you to bring the light of the Gospel to our contemporaries and to continue, like these Beati, to resist these new ideologies now springing up. May you be witnesses of freedom and mercy, allowing fraternity and dialogue to prevail over divisions, and fostering the fraternity of blood that arose in the period of suffering, when Christians, historically divided, drew closer and more united to one another.”
In the afternoon, the Pope is scheduled to meet with the Roma community, before leaving for Rome, where he should arrive around 7pm, local time. (FP)