By Archbishop Felix Machado
Vasai, June 1, 2019: Pope Francis arrived in Romania on May 31 for a three-day, cross-country pilgrimage. The visit took place 20 years after St. John Paul II made the first-ever papal visit to a majority Orthodox country, which is on the Catholic and European periphery.
On this occasion, Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai recalls his visit to Romania when he worked in the Vatican during 1994-1998.
I had participated in a meeting in Bucharest, Romania, invited by Catholic Action, a recognized lay association well known in Italy.
It was a memorable meeting and I saw and met so many Orthodox Christians and got to know the place.
One thing is sure, that Pope Francis, like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is very interested in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. Pope Francis is much loved by the Orthodox leaders as we can see that Patriarch Kiril of Moscow, hard liner, has met only Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is close to Bartholomew, Patriarch of Istanbul.
Romania also has a sizable number of Catholic Orthodox.
Since there has been much persecution of Christians in Romania during the Soviet Union time, the two communities share much between them.
Like in Uganda, as St Pope Paul VI announced martyrs (both Catholic and Anglican), Pope Francis might do a similar gesture. Pope Francis often speaks of “ecumenism of martyrdom or blood”.
While involved in ecumenism, Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe (formerly under Soviet Union) have not been close to Catholic Church.
But recent Popes have tried their best for rapprochement.
Pope Francis is much loved among Orthodox, also for his concern for ecology.
As Pope Francis tends to go to peripheries (small forgotten or ignored places), visit to these small places are typical of Pope Francis.
There are several theological dialogues going on with Orthodox Churches. All Orthodox Churches (difficult to bring them together) come together to dialogue with the Catholic Church.
Although the competence of dialogue with Orthodox Churches is with the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (under Cardinal Kurt Koch) also has been promoting Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, since there are also Catholic Orthodox Churches (like our Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara).
In short, Pope Francis is bringing the worldwide Christians together by enhancing dialogue with Orthodox who have remained aloof and forgotten.
We must not forget that the World Council of Churches (WCC) has a large number of Orthodox Churches as their members; and they exercise strong power within the WCC forum.
The Catholic Church works closely with WCC and the Pope visiting countries such as Romania where Orthodox Christians are the majority is important for ecumenical dialogue.
The Pope becomes an important player to bring the entire Christian world in unity (the fundamental role of the Pope).