Pope Francis told Romanian leaders a country’s success is measured by how it treats and cares for its most vulnerable citizens, especially the poor and disadvantaged.
The path to building an inclusive society is one where every person is seen as a brother or sister and “where the weak, the poor and the least are no longer seen as undesirables that keep the ‘machine’ from functioning,” the pope said on May 31, the first day of his visit to Romania.
“Only to the extent that a society is concerned for its most disadvantaged members can it be considered truly civil,” he said.
The pope had been welcomed at Henri Coanda International Airport in Otopeni, 10 miles north of the center of Bucharest, by President Klaus Iohannis and his wife, Carmen Iohannis, as well as the country’s bishops.
Pope Francis: “Only to the extent that a society is concerned for its most disadvantaged members can it be considered truly civil.”
Hundreds of well-wishers cheered and waved flags bearing the blue, yellow and red colors of Romania as well as the yellow and white colors of Vatican City State. Thousands more lined the streets of Bucharest to welcome the papal motorcade as Pope Francis made his way to Cotroceni Palace.
Speaking to Romanian civic leaders and diplomats in the 18th-century presidential palace, Francis began by thanking the country’s president and prime minister for their welcome. He also expressed his joy at coming here 20 years after St. John Paul II became the first pope to visit this majority-Orthodox nation of some 20 million people.
President Iohannis said the country was “honored” to welcome Pope Francis. He recalled how Romania recovered its independence from communist rule 30 years ago, and today “we glorify the Most High without fear and without impediment.” He said the beatification of the seven bishop martyrs of the Greek Catholic Church “is also a great homage to all those who sacrificed themselves for liberty and the faith during communism.”
The president said the pope’s message of caring for the poor and migrants resonated well in this country.
Pope Francis recalled that 30 years ago, in December 1989, “Romania was liberated from a regime that oppressed civil and religious liberty.
In his address, Pope Francis greeted the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel, who was also present, and “all the Romanian Orthodox faithful.” He also extended his greeting to the Catholic bishops and people from the Latin and Greek Catholic Rites, “whom I have come to confirm in faith and to encourage on their journey of life and Christian witness.”
Francis recalled that 30 years ago, in December 1989, “Romania was liberated from a regime that oppressed civil and religious liberty, isolated the nation from other European countries and led to the stagnation of its economy and the exhaustion of its creative powers.”
Since then, he said, the country “has been committed to building a sound democracy” through its dedication to dialogue, support for religious freedom and participation on the international stage.
He recognized that it had made “great strides” on this journey, “despite significant difficulties and privations.” He did not explicitly mention the fact that one of those difficulties has been corruption at high levels or that, on the eve of his visit, a leading member of the ruling Social Democratic Party had been jailed after a conviction on corruption-related charges.
The pope paid homage to “the sacrifices endured” by so many sons and daughters of Romania, who have “enriched” the countries to which they have emigrated.
Instead, he noted that the effort to build a democratic society has “unleashed great creative energies” in the economy and other fields. He encouraged political leaders to continue their efforts “to consolidate the structures and institutions needed to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the citizenry and to encourage the nation’s people to realize its full potential and native genius.”
Francis then drew attention to the problems that threaten the “social stability and the governance” of the country. First among them, he said, is “the phenomenon of emigration and the several million people who have had to leave their homes and country in order to seek new opportunities for employment and a dignified existence.”
“The depopulation of many villages,” he said, has weakened “the profound cultural and spiritual roots that have sustained you in times of trial.”
The pope paid homage to “the sacrifices endured” by so many sons and daughters of Romania, who have “enriched” the countries to which they have emigrated by “their culture, distinctive identity and their industriousness” and who have also helped their families back home.
The Catholic Church, Francis said, hopes to “contribute to the building up of a society and of civil and spiritual life in your beautiful land of Romania.”
He called for “greater cooperation on the part of the nation’s political, economic, social and spiritual forces” in addressing these problems and working “for the common good.”
Pope Francis said the process of social, economic and political reconstruction “needs to have a heart and soul and a clear goal to achieve, one imposed not by extrinsic considerations or by the growing power of centers of high finance but by an awareness of the centrality of the human person and of his or her inalienable rights.”
He told the leaders of this country that “it is not enough to modernize economic theories or professional techniques and abilities, however necessary these in themselves may be. It requires developing not just material conditions but the very soul of your people.”
In this regard, he said, “the Christian churches can help to rediscover and strengthen the beating heart that can be the source of a political and social action, based on the dignity of the person and leading to commitment to work with fairness and generosity for the overall common good.”
He called on these churches “to grow in authentic mutual friendship and cooperation” and said, “this is the path that the Catholic Church wishes to follow.”
The Catholic Church, he said, hopes to “contribute to the building up of a society and of civil and spiritual life in your beautiful land of Romania.”
Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.