Pope Francis in Romania: a country is measured by how it treats the poor

Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with civil and political leaders and members of the diplomatic corps at the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest, Romania, May 31, 2019. The pope is making a three-day visit to Romania. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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.

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“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.

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J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

Only to the extent that a society is concerned for its most disadvantaged members can it be considered truly civil

Are there any Catholic countries that have a good track record of eliminating poverty and thus being civil?

Lisa M
3 months 2 weeks ago

With all due respect, you might want to take some history lessons from a non US perspective. Others may view history quite differently. Their voices are worth listening to as well. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

Enlighten us. I know quite a lot of history and have no problem defending what I say. The modern world originated in Protestant religious wars in the late 1500’s and mid 1600’s in England and the Netherlands. I can tell you how that spread and the Catholic Church fought it. It’s why it didn’t get to Latin America.

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

It wasn’t just Catholic countries that fought it. Protestant countries that were of one religion didn’t thrive either. Mainly Lutheran countries. Where various Protestant religions clashed religious freedom emerged and with it individual freedom. And then wealth.

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

In Canada there were two massive emigration’s from the US. First at the Revolution and then in the early 20th century there was a big emigration of socialist from the US when they could not get traction here.

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

An example of how the modern world began. In the 1730’s the average worker in England made 11 shillings a week. A pound of cotton cloth cost 11 shillings. By the 1790’s a pound of cotton cost 1 shilling. There were several inventions in weaving and manufacturing of cloth because a common person could reap the benefits of their efforts. This attitude was fought in Catholic countries but eventually spread to most of Western Europe. It was also present in the British colonies. The Pope will gain more acceptance if he acknowledges this history.

Lisa M
3 months 2 weeks ago

J Cosgrove- I can't enlighten you concerning history if you are only speaking in terms of industrialization and capitalism, and not mentioning some of the problems . Even if you are to argue that this brought opportunity to those who otherwise had little, in general, the movement from rural to city living was brutal for most, and benefitted few as far as quality of life for at least the first century of it's realization. What coincided with this was also, as an example, the Scottish Clearances and the Irish famine, etc. People suffered, and lands were stolen from them. For those who survived, they were forced to live in substandard conditions in the cities, including those who sought their way to a better life in the "New World". The same for South America and Africa concerning colonization. This type of economic growth, continues as far as those who benefit and those who don't. There is a reserve somewhere in Manitoba that had their water supply cut off, diverted, in order to manage the water supply/flow near Winnipeg. That was done over twenty years ago, temporarily of course, and they are still living/existing on bottled water! They were self sufficient beforehand. They are completely cutoff and dependent now.
A system being better than any other system does not mean it is good enough. Add to it political decisions that serve the best interest of the leaders and foreign governments, at the expense of the people, where a country's natural resources are owned by outsiders and are of no benefit to the people who live there, you are left with an unjust system, even if part of that economic system is great. The natural distribution of natural resources indicates that, if were all lived in peace and harmony, every nation would have enough of something to exchange for something else of equal value. Some of the poorest people live in nations with the most sought after goods. We need to aim higher by insisting we share some of the wealth, while of course continuing to promote the benefits of responsible capitalism that includes opportunity through personal development, creativity and private ownership of enterprise and property.

Who are the socialist you are referring to that left the US for Canada when they didn't gain much traction? I'm interested :)

I'm not very familiar with the history of Catholic countries, but your argument concerning a different attitude was certainly the case in Catholic Quebec, compared to the beginning history of the rest of Canada which was primarily protestant, and of course the original 13 colonies of the US,
There is no open border being advocated by Pope Francis. He is advocating for all nations to work together to help the migrants of the world, who have been displaced, by war, famine, or political decisions, including foreign governments that have contributed to an uneven distribution of wealth to the point that these people feel they have no other choice but to leave their country. If, Germany can take more than 1 million migrants, and Canada took in more refuges than the US in recent years, and their citizens, are not voting supporting populist parties to the same degree as those countries who are resisting immigration, maybe there are positives that are being overlooked. Regardless, but for the grace of God go I is something we should never forget.

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

Why was there a movement from the farm to the city. Because life on the farm was so horrendous as to be unbearable. Subsequent life in the city was harsh for many but everyone had the option to move. It was not better anywhere else. There has been a myth of rural life being better ever since but it never existed. It was brutal.

The socialist movement from the US to Canada took place mainly in early 20th century to the prairie providences. About a million farmers made the move. Canadian health care was a result.

J Cosgrove
3 months 2 weeks ago

It’s interesting that free market capitalism gets criticized and nothing else does. Everything has flaws. The alternatives to free market Capitalism have massive flaws but they are never mentioned. I wonder why. There is no such thing as a new economy. That’s a joke and anyone who says there is is lying or uninformed. Human nature has not changed.

Lisa M
3 months 2 weeks ago

They are not mentioned because they offer nothing, but it doesn't change that there is better to be had.

Lisa M
3 months 2 weeks ago

Thanks, I didn't realize that.

Lisa M
3 months 2 weeks ago

In some instances, the land was taken from them.

Dale Athlon
3 months 2 weeks ago

The Pope’s comments could be construed as racist, since African nations do not have a good track record for the poor. Much corruption instead.

John Chuchman
3 months 2 weeks ago

and its women?

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