Archbishop Ioan Robu saw churches bulldozed under communism.
As Christmas approaches, the
served as the apostolic administrator of Bucharest between 1984 and 1990, at
the height of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s
anti-Church crusade when churches were razed all over Bucharest. He is now
leading a campaign to protect
Register correspondents Victor Gaetan and Eleanor Kennelly spoke
to Archbishop Robu in
What difficulties are you facing as a Church in
The spirit of communism is still
active through a gross disrespect for the sanctity of churches. Historically
Right next door to Cathedral Josif, just a few meters from the church’s nave, a giant 18-story colossus, with four underground levels, is under construction. It poses imminent danger to the church, a national historical monument. They drilled on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, shaking the church so violently that many parishioners left in fear. Vases with flowers fell off the pedestals honoring the saints. They work day and night.
What risk does the development pose to the cathedral?
The huge office tower is being
erected without any independent structural engineering or impact studies. Yet
the land is sandy, a subterranean river runs near the plot, and the danger of
an earthquake is ever present in
I’m not alone in signaling the danger and illegality of this project: The former minister of public works confirms that he refused to approve the project and that proper procedures have not been followed by developers; a report (in May) from the State Office for the Inspection of Construction found numerous irregularities and missing permits that make the construction approval obtained earlier this year dubious; and a New York- based engineer, a consultant to the project, resigned in protest in May. He believes the current construction violates at least 49 laws and regulations — one being consultation with us.
Yes, and when President Traian Basescu was in an Austrian
hospital for back surgery this spring, the archbishop of
What was Church life like for you under communism?
Overall, Romanians were under
constant pressure not to come to church and not to practice faith. The Roman
Catholic Church was a “tolerated” Church in that our Church was not banned, as
happened to Greek Catholics from 1948 to January 1990. Romanians were not
forbidden from attending
What were the three major challenges to maintaining and cultivating the Roman Catholic community under communism?
isolation from other Catholic communities outside
You say travel was limited. What about travel to the
During most of the 1970s, there
were rare contacts with the
What did you do in
I took my doctorate in theology in
1977. I was interested in existential literature, especially where it touched
on faith. I wrote a thesis on the writing of Julian Green, an American writer
who lived in
When you attended seminary, what was the climate for priests?
In 1958, when I entered seminary
at age 14, priests were being arrested in waves. Priests were an obstacle to
communism. They usually stood with the people, against the collectivization of
land, against the nationalization of homes and businesses. So the communists
looked for any pretext to get rid of priests. There were so many pretexts: Many
were accused of being spies for the
How did Pope John Paul II’s election impact the
It was so important in so many
ways. The fact that the Pope was from
Pope John Paul must have been following the period of extreme anti-Christianity when Ceausescu bulldozed churches to make way for apartment blocks and his palaces.
Without a doubt, the mother Church, and the Pope himself, helped protect us during that period. We were always afraid that the bulldozers would come for us. The Cathedral of St. Joseph is in the middle of the city as are some of our other churches. Although they destroyed or covered up scores of Orthodox churches, they never physically threatened us, undoubtedly due to international pressure.
After the overthrow of communism in December 1989 and Ceausescu’s overthrow, what were some major changes for the Church?
Of course, there were many, many positive changes. First, many believers we didn’t know came openly to the Church for the first time. For example, many from the military who would have lost their jobs had they come to Mass under communism, returned to the Church. And we have had many new vocations. Men are studying for the priesthood under the instruction of numerous religious communities — the Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Carmelites, others.
The most extraordinary event for
the Roman Catholic community was the three-day visit of Pope John Paul II to
Share with us a favorite memory of the Pope’s visit to
We were in a car on the way to the airport, at the end of the visit: the Pope, Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist and me. As we looked out on crowds of jubilant people lining the streets, I said, “People are so happy to see the Pope!” And he laughed, with his deep enthusiastic laugh, “No! They are so happy to see the Pope leaving!”
Seriously, he expressed so much
personal knowledge of the suffering faced by individual priests and the
pressure of communism. At the Mass he said in
What can the international Catholic community do to help with the current cathedral situation?
Under Ceausescu, we feared that
the cathedral would be torn down or covered up — that was the policy toward
churches. Instead, it is happening to us now. What the communists could not
destroy because of international pressure might now be destroyed, 17 years
after Ceausescu’s overthrow. So we are asking Catholics around the world to
join us in solidarity. The American Catholic community is especially
influential with President Train Basescu. He is the
only one who could really end our siege. He can be reached at
Victor Gaetan and Eleanor Kennelly
are based in