Blaj, June 2, 2019: Pope Francis on June 2 beatified seven bishops who were martyred during Romania’s communist regime.
The Pope presided over the eastern rite liturgy in Blaj, a stronghold of the Greek-Catholic Church that was outlawed during communism, on his third and final day in Romania.
The seven bishops had been arrested and imprisoned between 1950 and 1970 for adhering to their faith.
The pontiff held them up as models for the Romanian faithful today, saying they “gave their lives to oppose an illiberal ideological system.”
“These lands know well how greatly people suffer when an ideology or a regime takes over, setting itself up as a rule for the very life and faith of people, diminishing and even eliminating their ability to make decisions, their freedom and their room for creativity,” he said.
The Pope warned that new ideologies were threatening Romanian families today — an apparent reference to gender issues, gay marriage and other secular trends that the pontiff has previously blasted as Western “ideological colonization” over others.
“Forms of ideological colonization that devalue the person, life, marriage and the family, and above all, with alienating proposals as atheistic as those of the past, harm our young people and children, leaving them without roots from which they can grow,” he said.
The chant-filled Mass followed the Byzantine rite of the Greek-Catholic Church, which is loyal to Rome. The liturgy itself was celebrated by a Greek-Catholic bishop, but it marked the first time that Pope Francis had presided over an eastern rite liturgy as pope, the Vatican said.
It was celebrated on the symbolic “Field of Liberty,” a huge expanse east of Blaj that was the site of an important nationalist rally in 1848. A century later, communist leaders marking the anniversary at the field demanded that Greek-Catholics join the Orthodox Church.
Many refused, and thousands of priests were incarcerated in communist prisons, including the seven beatified. The Catholic Church’s property was seized. The refusal of the Orthodox Church to return those Catholic assets remains a source of tension between the two today.
Because the seven bishops were declared martyrs, who died out of hatred for the Catholic faith, the Vatican didn’t need to confirm a miracle attributed to their intercession for them to be beatified; a miracle is needed for them to be made saints.
It was Pope Francis’ second visit to Transylvania, after he celebrated Mass on June 1 at the Sumuleu Ciuc shrine in the Carpathian mountains, the most important pilgrimage site in Romania dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Pope Francis is travelling across Romania to visit its far-flung Catholic communities. The single-country itinerary is making up for the fact that St. John Paul II was only allowed to visit the capital, Bucharest, in 1999 in the first papal visit to a majority Orthodox country since the Great Schism divided Christianity.
After Mass in Blaj, the Pope is scheduled to meet with people from the disadvantaged Roma minority before returning to the Vatican.