BUCHAREST - The Catholic Church wants to continue to be an active and contributive member of Romanian society, Pope Francis told the president and authorities of the Eastern European country Friday.
The Catholic Church “desires to contribute to the building up of society,” he said May 31, on the first of a three-day trip to the Romanian cities of Bucharest, Bacau, Sumuleu-Ciuc, and Blaj.
He explained that the Catholic Church is “no stranger” to patriotism; “she shares fully in the spirit of the nation,” as can be seen in the participation of Catholics “in the shaping of the country’s future and in the creation and development of the structures of integral education and forms of charitable assistance suited to a modern state.”
“In this way, she desires to contribute to the building up of society and of civil and spiritual life in your beautiful land of Romania,” he stated.
Pope Francis travels to the country 20 years after the apostolic visit of St. Pope John Paul II in May 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.
“I am happy to find myself in this, your ţara frumoasă (beautiful land), twenty years after the visit of Saint John Paul II,” the pope said, “and in this semester when Romania, for the first time since its entrance into the European Union, holds the presidency of the Council of Europe.”
Speaking about the Catholic Church in Romania, he explained that it wants “to be a sign of harmony in the hope of unity and to be at the service of human dignity and the common good.”
“She wishes to cooperate with the civil authorities, with the other Churches and with all men and women of good will, journeying together with them and placing her specific gifts at the service of the entire community,” he said.
Noting the difficult period of communist regime under which civil and religious liberty was oppressed in Romania, Francis praised the country’s commitment to building “a sound democracy” through plural political and social forces, reciprocal dialogue, fundamental recognition of religious freedom, and full participation on the international stage.
He acknowledged Romania’s “great strides made on this journey, despite significant difficulties and privations” and the achievements of the “dawn of this new era.”
Francis also spoke about the country’s challenges, primarily the large number of Romanians who leave the country “to seek new opportunities for employment and a dignified existence.”
According to the UN International Migration Report, about 3.4 million Romanians emigrated from 2007 to 2015.
This has resulted in a dramatic depopulation especially in villages, which has affected “the quality of life in those areas, and the weakening of the profound cultural and spiritual roots that have sustained [Romanians] in times of trial,” Pope Francis noted.
He commended the sacrifices of the Romanians who have left the country to make a better life for themselves and their families, and who “by their culture, their distinctive identity and their industriousness, have enriched those countries to which they have emigrated.”
“Think to our brothers and sisters who are outside the country,” he added. It is “an act of patriotism, an act of fraternity, an act of justice.”
He also told the Romanian leaders that for a sustainable development of the country it is necessary to have a “concrete practice of solidarity and charity, and the increased concern of social, civil and political forces for the pursuit of the common good.”
“It requires developing not just material conditions but the very soul of your people,” the pope urged. “Because people have a soul. They have a way to understand reality, to live reality. Return always to the soul of the people.”
The Christian Churches can help in this regard, by helping the country to “rediscover and strengthen the beating heart that can be the source of a political and social action based on the dignity of the person and leading to commitment to work with fairness and generosity for the overall common good,” he said.