BUCHAREST, Romania—It was the Romanian people's turn May 9 for Pope John Paul II.
That was the day the Holy Father ended his historic three-day trip to Romania, becoming the first Pope to visit an Orthodox land.
After the Holy Father held two days of meetings with top government and Church officials — both Catholic and Orthodox — hundreds of thousands of Romanians thronged the center of their capital as Pope John Paul II and Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist each attended a worship service conducted by the other.
“I hereby express the wish that in the third millennium, if we are not totally united, we can at least move closer to full communion,” John Paul told his Orthodox hearers shortly before his departure May 9.
The worship services — magnificent pageants of music and liturgy, lavish robes and swaying censers — drew throngs of Catholic and Orthodox faithful despite the wilting sun. Most worshippers were unable to attend the Pope's appearances the first two days of the visit, held in smaller churches.
The visit here marked another milestone in John Paul's efforts to improve relations with other religions, both Christian and non-Christian, and could help pave the way for John Paul's long-sought trip to Russia, home of the world's largest Orthodox community. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches split in 1054 over such doctrinal issues as papal primacy and the Nicene Creed. At that time, their respective leaders excommunicated each other — an action retracted by their successors in 1966.
The visit was also marked by an unusual joint statement by John Paul and Teoctist calling for negotiations to end the war in neighboring Yugoslavia. John Paul also repeatedly paid tribute to the nation's minority Catholics, including hundreds of thousands of Greek Catholics who use the Eastern liturgy but have a strained relationship with the Orthodox.
And while saluting Romanians for freeing themselves from “the nightmare of Communism,” the Holy Father warned at airport departure ceremonies that the “dangerous dreams of consumerism [can] also kill the future.”
But ecumenism, not economics, dominated the day.
At midday Sunday, May 9, the Pope looked on as Teoctist presided over a three-and-a-half-hour Orthodox service in Union Square. About 100,000 worshippers packed in closely to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Teoctist stood on the specially built stage flanked by bishops and cantors who intoned prayers while two choirs sang a nearly continuous succession of full-throated hymns.
“Our Churches here offer a foretaste of the image of the indivisible Church,” said Patriarch Teoctist.
Many Catholics had traveled from regions of the country where they form large minorities, such as Transylvania.
Worshippers gamely endured the strong sun, but dozens fainted and most sheltered themselves with whatever they had with them — headscarves, parasols or newspapers with headlines blaring out the previous day's news of the papal visit.
In the midst of the Easter season of both Churches' liturgical calendar, John Paul and Teoctist separately shouted out the traditional formula, “Christ is risen!” The crowd's hearty-response, “He is risen indeed!” echoed off the walls of the apartment blocks ringing the vast plaza.
The square was built in the former regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who arranged for the demolition of historic homes and churches to make way for it. The open square is now the planned site of a future 2,000-seat cathedral, emblematic of the Orthodox Church's resurgence after decades of communist persecution.
Patriarch Teoctist said the Pope had given an unspecified donation — described by an Orthodox spokesman as “substantial” — toward the cathedral's construction. At the start of the service, John Paul blessed a cross marking the cathedral's cornerstone.
Orthodox Metropolitan Daniel of the Romanian regions of Moldavia and Bukovina, considered a possible successor to the 84-year-old Teoctist, gave a sermon alluding to the Pope's effort at reconciliation. Citing the gospel story of Jesus' patient instruction to the woman from foreign Samaria, Daniel said Jesus “crosses earthly boundaries in order to surpass mental boundaries, including the mental boundary of a nation's superiority over another nation.”
But Daniel also cited Jesus' example on the limits of inter-religious dialogue. “Jesus does not confuse religions and does not promote syncretism. He does not relativize truth.”
Later in the afternoon, it was Teoctist's turn to be spectator as the Pope celebrated Mass a few blocks in front of the House of the People, a 3,000-room marble complex left over from the communist era prior to the overthrow and execution of Ceausescu in 1989.
The largely Catholic crowd of about 200,000, sitting or standing in an unkempt, weedy park, roared “Viva Papa” repeatedly throughout the service. Added to the liturgy, celebrated in Romanian, were prayers in Hungarian, German and Polish, representing some of the country's Catholic ethnic minorities.
Many Catholics in the crowd had traveled from regions of the country where they form large minorities, such as Transylvania to the north.
But admiration for the Pope transcended Church divisions at both services.
“We are brothers and we are together,” said Catinca Bordan, 67, an Orthodox retiree from Bucharest who attended the first service.