John Paul II in Bucharest to Dialogue

Emotional Welcome for Pope's Historic Visit

BUCHAREST, MAY 7 (ZENIT).- For the first time in history a Pope visits a country with an Orthodox majority. Upon arrival at Baneasa airport this morning, the welcome embrace between John Paul II and Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist was a synthesis of the objectives of this historic trip.

From the very first moment, the Pope confirmed that he came to Rumania to "heal the wounds of the recent past" and to open a new period of "trust," one of the words that has been repeated most often in Bucharest, between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in Rumania.

In addition to representatives from the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, John Paul II was received at the airport by Emil Constantinescu, the president of Rumania.

The chief of State praised the Holy Father for his role in the defeat of communism, "a spiritual pathology overcome by the affirmation of the existence of great Christian principles."

One Thousand Year Separation

The president pointed out that the visit puts an end to 1,000 years of painful separation between Catholics and Orthodox, and said he was proud that a fundamental stone for the reconciliation of the two Churches was laid in a country that belongs to Europe, "not only because of culture or foreign policy reasons, but because of deep Christian roots."

Orthodox Affection

His Beatitude Teoctist, Orthodox Patriarch of Rumania, said to the Pope that he was being welcomed by a "faithful and believing," people in "in a land that thirsts for the spirit of justice."

He referred to the second Christian millennium, which began with a break in the unity of the Church, and is ending with a significant effort to reconstitute this lost unity. The Orthodox Church wishes to make a concrete contribution to this endeavor, in order to "heal the wounds of the body of Christ."

Rumania: Bridge Between East and West

The Holy Father began by describing Rumania as a bridge between East and West. A concept he referred to again in the Orthodox cathedral where he arrived at the end of the morning with the Patriarch of Bucharest in order to pray for a few moments.

According to the Pope, Rumania is a nation which even by name claims the influence of ancient Rome, but is also marked by Byzantine civilization. A crossroads between the Latin world and Orthodox tradition, between Hellenic civilization and Slavic peoples, forged by that age-old faith "represented by the images on the front of Churches which, in spite of wind and rain, continue to speak of the love of God for men."

The Pope did not limit his words to Rumania's distant past. From the moment of his arrival, just a few meters from the plane's steps, he referred to the "harsh and painful" time of the dictatorship.

"Your land has experienced, in this century which is coming to an end, the horrors of hard totalitarian systems, sharing in the suffering of many other countries of Europe. The communist regime suppressed the Church of the Byzantine-Rumanian rite -- united to Rome -- and persecuted bishops and priests, men and women religious, and laity, many of whom paid with their blood for their fidelity to Christ."

Some had to endure years of harsh imprisonment, like Cardinal Alexandru Todea, elderly and infirm, who was in jail for 16 years, and 27 years under house arrest. The Pope often quoted him and had longed to meet him.

Democracy and European Integration

The period of persecutions has ended. The spring of 89 has ushered in a new spring of hope in Rumania. According to the Pontiff, it is "a process which is not free from obstacles," in which it is necessary "to safeguard legality and to consolidate democratic institutions."

He called for the "political and financial support of the European Union," a community to which "Rumania belongs because of its history and culture."

The Catholic Church also wishes to contribute to this process, although there are difficulties.

During his lunch with the Rumanian bishops, John Paul II referred to a particularly difficult problem: the restitution of ecclesiastical property confiscated from the Catholics during the Communist regime and given to the Orthodox.

The Greek-Catholic Church is still deprived of the majority of the places of worship it owned prior to 1948. Although the Pope did not demand immediate restitution, he said "justice requires that that which has been taken be restored wherever possible."

He also expressed confidence in the work being carried out by the Commission of Orthodox and Catholics which is addressing the issue. In fact, the Pope's presence in Bucharest is, above all, a contribution to the dialogue.

av Webmaster publisert 08.05.1999, sist endret 08.05.1999 - 23:27