(from Bucharest) These are intense days, marked by great activity in the diocesan office of Bucharest. The preparations for the visit of Pope Francis to Romania, from 31 May to 2 June, necessitate major efforts on the part of everyone. In response to the invitation of the President of the Republic and of the Catholic Church of the Central-Eastern Country, Francis will undertake a multifaceted journey: State visit, pastoral and ecumenical at the same time (the Country has an Orthodox religious majority and a Protestant community, in addition to Roman Catholics and Greek Catholics). The Holy Father will be visiting four cities: first of all Bucharest – where he will celebrate Holy Mass in the Cathedral dedicated to St. Joseph -, followed by Iaşi, Blaj and the Marian Shrine of Sumuleu Ciuc. The program includes the beatification of seven bishops who were martyred during the communist period. The official motto of the visit, which will have a strong Marian connotation, is “Sā mergem împreunā – We are walking together”. Francis will arrive exactly 20 years after the apostolic visit of John Paul II. SIR discussed the upcoming visit with Fr Wilhelm Danca, Dean of the Catholic Theological Faculty of Bucharest and national media coordinator for the pontifical visit.
What is the climate in the Country in view of the Pope’s arrival?
A feeling of joy, of great expectation, of welcome. Ours is a very welcoming people, and many are involved in the preparations. The street festival that we held on Saturday, May 11 in Bucharest, organized in view of the papal journey, confirmed this… Public institutions are also giving us assistance and support in the preparations.
A stopover in four cities and the beatification of 7 bishops; Catholics with two religious rites and two languages, Romanian and Hungarian; the meeting with public authorities, at a moment in time that is of particular political importance to the country. Is it therefore a complex and delicate journey?
It is, which is why we are working with determination to make sure everything goes smoothly. The very fact that the Pope will stay with us for three days is a confirmation of the delicate nature of this visit, as well as a sign of attention and closeness to our community and a desire to strengthen ecumenical dialogue.
In concrete terms, do you feel that people are taking an interest in the visit?
Of course! For organisational purposes we have asked everyone to register online for the various events, providing their personal details. We already have 110 thousand registrations for the visit to Sumuleu Ciuc, more than 50 thousand in Iaşi and Blaj; high numbers also in Bucharest, tens of thousands. We are expecting to see the streets filled with people who will want to see the Pope, greet him, make him feel their affection . Public authorities have confirmed their presence, starting with President Iohannis, who is Lutheran, accompanied by his wife, Catholic. News media are giving ample coverage of this event.
Bergoglio is arriving – after the recent visit to Bulgaria and Macedonia – in a Country with an Orthodox majority…
We noted the interest and respect of the Orthodox Church for this visit that the Holy Father dedicates to the Roman-Catholics and Greek-Catholics of Romania. Some of their representatives have expressed their wish to be present. The Catholic Church has a wealth of friendship that will certainly not be jeopardized by some fundamentalist voices.
In this first semester of 2019 Romania holds the presidency of the EU and on May 9, the Feast of Europe, the city of Sibiu hosted the heads of Government and State of the member States of the Union for an extraordinary summit in view of the elections to the Parliament in Strasbourg. 15 years after entering the “Common Home”, how do your fellow-citizens view the Country’s presence in the European Union?
I would say that it is perceived as a good thing for our country, given the opportunities that it offers for economic and social growth, for strengthening democracy and justice. Indeed, we have no shortage of problems, in the area of employment for example. We must also consider that four million Romanians have emigrated after the fall of the regime, and many among them were young people. But the criterion of solidarity, which identifies the European Union, is a synonym for hope. Among other things, in our country the nationalist tendencies observed in other European countries, perhaps fomented by migratory inflows, here are not perceived with the same intensity. If anything, we must develop a greater awareness of belonging to the EU, and this will take some more time.
In a few days we will be called to cast our vote in the European Parliament elections. If you could send a message to Romanian youths, what would you say to them?
I would invite them to vote, to work for an increasingly qualified presence of Romania in Europe, even through Christian witness, that has the power to animate European politics. And I would invite them to attend to their sense of responsibility and to always nurture hope.