Signs of faith and mercy

Signs of faith and mercy Children present flowers to Pope Francis as he arrives for a meeting with members of the Roma community in Blaj, Romania, June 2, 2019. CNS

The Pope’s trip to Romania showed how Christians must persist in the faith no matter what their challenges, writes Greg Daly

The witness of Romania’s martyred bishops are a constant reminder that Christians must resist ideologies that seek to stifle and suppress their cultural and religious traditions, Pope Francis said on the last day of his visit to Romania over the weekend.

Celebrating a Divine Liturgy at the ‘Field of Liberty’ in the Transylvanian city of Blaj on June 2, the Pope beatified seven Eastern-rite Catholic bishops, all of whom were arrested in 1948 during an anti-religious campaign and left to die of hunger, disease, exposure and the effects of hard labour, before being buried in unmarked graves.

During the ceremony, men women and children held up images of the martyred bishops Ioan Suciu, Vasile Aftenie, Valeriu Traian Frentiu, Tit Liviu Chinezu, Ioan Balan, Alexandru Rusu and Iuliu Hossu, who died not knowing that in 1969 St Paul VI had secretly named him a cardinal in pectore.

“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,” the Pontiff said during the ceremony.


Recalling how under communism, Romanian Christians “were forced to endure a way of thinking and acting that showed contempt for others and led to the expulsion and killing of the defenseless and the silencing of dissenting voices”, Pope Francis held up the seven beatified bishops as modes of Christian faith and love.

“With great courage and interior fortitude, they accepted harsh imprisonment and every kind of mistreatment, in order not to deny their fidelity to their beloved Church,” he said. “These pastors, martyrs for the faith, re-appropriated and handed down to the Romanian people a precious legacy that we can sum up in two words: freedom and mercy.”

According to the Vatican, while about 20,000 people followed the liturgy on big screens around the city, an estimated 60,000 people filled the Field of Liberty, where, during the centenary of Romania’s 1848 revolution, the country’s communist rulers formally dissolved the the Eastern-rite Romanian Catholic Church.

“This place, filled with meaning, evokes the unity of your people, which is found in the diversity of its religious expressions,” the Pope said in his homily. “All these things constitute a spiritual patrimony that enriches and distinguishes Romanian culture and national identity. The new Beati endured suffering and gave their lives to oppose an illiberal ideological system that oppressed the fundamental rights of the human person.”

The Pope also remarked on the beatified bishops’ legacy of mercy.

“Their tenacity in professing fidelity to Christ was matched by their readiness to suffer martyrdom without showing hatred towards their persecutors and indeed responding to them with great meekness,” he said, quoting how Blessed Iuliu Hossu had said during his imprisonment: “God has sent us into this darkness of suffering in order to offer forgiveness and to pray for the conversion of all.”

The Pope warned too of the rise in today’s world of insidious and atheistic ideologies that devalue the person, life, marriage and the family, that encourage people to treat other human beings as mere objects and that seek to cut young people and children off from their richest cultural and religious traditions.

“I would like to encourage you to bring the light of the Gospel to our contemporaries and to continue, like these Beati, to resist these new ideologies now springing up,” the Pontiff continued. “It is our turn to struggle now, as it was theirs to struggle in their time. May you be witnesses of freedom and mercy, allowing fraternity and dialogue to prevail over divisions, and fostering the fraternity of blood that arose in the period of suffering, when Christians, historically divided, drew closer and more united to one another.”


The beatification ceremony followed two days in which Pope Francis underlined the importance of ecumenism in a world where Christians are increasingly beleaguered, expressed his sorrow at and asked forgiveness for how the Roma people have been treated through history, and laid out a road-map for the future of European societies.

Speaking to representatives of civic society as well of Romania’s Churches, he had praised the country for its commitment to “building a sound democracy through the plurality of its political and social forces and their reciprocal dialogue, through the fundamental recognition of religious freedom and through the country’s full participation on the greater international stage”.

Despite difficulties and challenges along the way, the Pope said, it was “important to acknowledge the great strides made on this journey”.

“It is necessary to move forward together in unity and conviction in following the highest calling to which every state must aspire: that of responsibility for the common good of its people,” he said. “To move forward together, as a way of shaping the future, requires a noble willingness to sacrifice something of one’s own vision or best interest for the sake of a greater project, and thus to create a harmony that makes it possible to advance securely towards shared goals. This is the basis of a society’s nobility.”

Describing this as “the path to the building of an inclusive society, one in which everyone shares his or her own gifts and abilities”, whatever they may be, the Pope said how the weakest and most apparently inconvenient is a vital way if judging the health of a society.

“Indeed, how they are treated is the best indicator of the actual goodness of the social model that one is attempting to build. Only to the extent that a society is concerned for its most disadvantaged members, can it be considered truly civil,” he said.

The Pope stressed the need to keep the human person rather than economic theories at the heart of society, saying that the Christian Churches can play a key part in this.

“This is the path that the Catholic Church wishes to follow,” he said. “She desires to contribute to the building up of society. She desires to be a sign of harmony in the hope of unity and to be at the service of human dignity and the common good. She wishes to cooperate with the civil authorities, with the other Churches and with all men and women of good will, journeying together with them and placing her specific gifts at the service of the entire community.”