BUCHAREST, Romania — Pope Francis said Friday that Catholics and Orthodox are bonded by a “shared inheritance” of suffering for Christ, from the apostles to modern martyrs.
“How many were the martyrs and confessors of the faith! In recent times, how many, from different confessions, stood side by side in prisons to support one another in turn,” Pope Francis said during his apostolic trip to Romania.
“What they suffered for, even to the sacrifice of their lives, is too precious an inheritance to be disregarded or tarnished,” he said. “It is a shared inheritance, and it summons us to remain close to our brothers and sisters who share it.”
In a meeting with Patriarch Daniel and the Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Bucharest, Pope Francis highlighted how Catholics and Orthodox suffered together under Romania’s former communist regime.
During his three-day trip to Romania, Pope Francis will beatify seven Greek-Catholic bishops of Romania who were killed by the communists between 1950 and 1970.
“The bonds of faith that unite us go back to the apostles, the witnesses of the Risen Jesus, and in particular to the bond between Peter and Andrew, who, according to Tradition, brought the faith to these lands. Blood brothers, they were also in an exceptional way brothers in shedding their blood for the Lord,” Francis said in the Palace of the Patriarchate.
“They remind us that there exists a fraternity of blood that precedes us and that, as a silent and life-giving stream flowing down the centuries, has never ceased to nourish and sustain us on our journey,” he said.
Pope Francis’ trip to Romania marks the 20th anniversary of the first papal trip to Romania by St. John Paul II in 1999. At the time, John Paul II was prevented from traveling outside of the country’s capital of Bucharest, whereas Francis will also be visiting the Catholic communities in the regions of Transylvania and Moldova.
“Twenty years ago, before this Holy Synod, Pope John Paul II said, ‘I have come to contemplate the face of Christ etched in your Church; I have come to venerate this suffering face, the pledge to you of new hope,’” he said. “I, too, have come here as a pilgrim desirous of seeing the Lord’s face in the faces of my brothers.”
Pope Francis encouraged “journeying together,” remembering roots, not past grievances from wrongs endured.
In 1948, when the Communist Party took power in Romania, the Greek Catholic Church was declared illegal. As many as 2,500 Greek-Catholic church buildings and other assets were seized and transferred to the Romanian Orthodox Church.
In the wake of the revolution of 1989, the Romanian Greek Catholic Church was restored, but Catholics struggled to have their properties returned, many of which remain in Romanian Orthodox or government ownership.
“The remembrance of steps taken and completed together encourages us to advance to the future in the awareness — certainly — of our differences, but, above all, in thanksgiving for a family atmosphere to be rediscovered and a memory of communion to be revived, that, like a lamp, can light up the steps of our journey,” Pope Francis said.
“May the Holy Spirit renew us, for he disdains uniformity and loves to shape unity from the most beautiful and harmonious diversity,” he said.
“May he, the creator of newness, make us courageous as we experience unprecedented ways of sharing and of mission,” Francis added. “May he, the strength of the martyrs, keep us from making his self-gift fruitless.”
And in a meeting with the Romanian Orthodox in their new cathedral in Bucharest Friday, Pope Francis prayed for the union of Christians, as demonstrated in the first words of the Pater Noster.
“Each time we say ‘Our Father,’ we state that the word ‘Father’ cannot stand on its own, apart from ‘Our,’” Pope Francis said in a meeting with Romanian Orthodox leaders and faithful with a common recitation of the Our Father.
He said, “United in Jesus’ prayer, we are also united to his experience of love and intercession, which leads us to say: ‘My Father and your Father, my God and your God.’ We are invited to make ‘my’ become ‘our’ and ‘our’ to become a prayer.”
“Help us, Father, to take our brother or sister’s lives seriously, to make their history our history,” he prayed.
Referring to the line of the Our Father, which asks God to provide “our daily bread,” Francis said today we ask also for the bread “of which so many people today are lacking”: love.
“The Our Father is a prayer that leaves us troubled and crying out in protest against the famine of love in our time, against the individualism and indifference that profane your name, Father,” he prayed.
“Help us to hunger to give freely of ourselves. Remind us, whenever we pray, that life is not about keeping ourselves comfortable, but about letting ourselves be broken; not about accumulating, but about sharing; not about eating to our heart’s content, but about feeding others,” Pope Francis said.
Going through the Our Father line-by-line, the Pope addressed God the Father, “who art in heaven, a heaven that embraces all and in which you make the sun rise on the good and the evil, on the just and the unjust.”
He prayed for peace and harmony on Earth through the intercession of those who dwell with God in heaven, “after having believed, loved and suffered greatly, even in our own days, simply for the fact that they were Christians.”
“Together with them, we wish to hallow your name, placing it at the heart of all we do. May your name, Lord, and not ours, be the one that moves and awakens in us the exercise of charity,” he added.
Reflecting on the desire for “your kingdom to come,” the Pope criticized the “frenetic consumerism that entices with glittering but fleeting realities,” and he prayed for the grace to give up the comfort of power, worldliness and self-sufficiency.
“God’s will is that all be saved,” Francis said, quoting St. John Cassian, a monk and theologian who lived during the fourth and fifth centuries; thus the prayer says: “Thy will be done, not our will.”
Pope Francis prayed for the “daily bread” who is Christ and for the “the bread of memory, the grace to nurture the shared roots of our Christian identity, so indispensable in an age when humanity, and the young in particular, tend to feel rootless amid the uncertainties of life and incapable of building their lives on a solid foundation.”
“Each time we pray, we ask that our trespasses, our debts, be forgiven,” he continued, encouraging Catholics and Eastern Orthodox to find the strength of heart to forgive the trespasses of others.
“And when the evil that lurks at the doorway of our hearts makes us want to close in on ourselves; when we feel more strongly the temptation to turn our back on others; help us again, Father, for the essence of sin is withdrawal from you and from our neighbor,” he prayed.
“Help us to recognize in every one of our brothers and sisters a source of support on our common journey to you. Inspire in us the courage to say together: Our Father.”
Pope Francis also celebrated Mass in Bucharest for the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Friday, encouraging Catholics in Romania to imitate Mary’s humble joy in the little things in life.
“Mary journeys, encounters and rejoices because she carries something greater than herself: She is the bearer of a blessing. Like her, may we, too, be unafraid to bear the blessing that Romania needs,” Pope Francis said May 31 in Bucharest’s St. Joseph Cathedral.
“This is the secret of every Christian: God is in our midst as a powerful savior. Our certainty of this enables us, like Mary, to sing and exult with joy,” he said.
Pope Francis said that contemplating Mary can help one realize the quiet sacrifices, devotion and self-denial made by so many mothers and grandmothers, who are unafraid to “roll up their sleeves” and shoulder difficulties for the sake of their children and families.
“As a good mother, Mary knows that love grows daily amid the little things of life,” he said. “A mother’s love and ingenuity was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love.”
“Mary, lowly and humble, starts from God’s greatness, and despite her problems — which were not few — she is filled with joy, for she entrusts herself to the Lord in all things. She reminds us that God can always work wonders if we open our hearts to him and to our brothers and sisters,” he explained.
The feast of the Visitation celebrates the Virgin Mary’s journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who recognizes the unborn Messiah in Mary’s womb.
“Mary journeys from Nazareth to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. It is the first of Mary’s journeys, as related by the Scriptures — the first of many,” Pope Francis said in his homily.
“She will journey from Galilee to Bethlehem, where Jesus will be born; she will go down to Egypt to save her Child from Herod; she will go up again every year to Jerusalem for the Passover, and, ultimately, she will follow Jesus to Calvary,” he said.
Pope Francis explained that these journeys all have one thing in common: “They were never easy; they always required courage and patience.”
“They tell us that Our Lady knows what it means to walk uphill. … She knows what it is to be weary of walking, and she can take us by the hand amid our difficulties, in the most perilous twists and turns in our life’s journey,” he said.
The Holy Spirit “urges us as Christians to experience the miraculous motherhood of the Church, as she seeks out, protects and gathers her children,” Pope Francis said.
“Let us think of the great witnesses of these lands: simple persons who trusted in God in the midst of persecution. They did not put their hope in the world, but in the Lord, and thus they persevered,” he urged.
The Mass concluded the first day of Pope Francis’ May 31-June 2 apostolic visit to Romania, which also included a meeting with officials.