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Bucharest, May 6 /Agerpres/ - Fifteen years ago, Pope John Paul II conducted, between May 7-9, for the first time, a visit to Romania, a country predominantly Christian Orthodox in faith. It was the first visit of a Pope in Romania.
"It is for the first time that Divine Providence offered me the possibility to make an apostolic journey to a country predominantly orthodox", said Pope John Paul II, thanking Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church, as the latter greeted him on the airport.
During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II conducted a great number of trips in different countries of the world and highly valued ecumenical dialogue between the different rites of the Christian religion and other religions. He was also the first Pope to visit a synagogue and a mosque.
Relations between Western and Eastern Christianity knew a cooling of relations, after the Great Schism of 1054, which lasted for almost a millennium.
The first opening of relations between the two Christian churches happened in 1964, when the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI shared a 'kiss of peace'. A year later, the reciprocal anathemas were lifted, a new stage in the history of the two churches beginning.
Patriarch Teoctist met for the first time with Pope John Paul II on January 4, 1989, when during a layover in Rome he was received with protocol becoming of an official visit.
Immediately after the fall of the totalitarian regimes in Eastern and Central Europe, the Sovereign Pontiff conducted several visits in the region.
Ever since January 1990, Romanian authorities addressed an invitation to His Holiness to visit Romania, an invitation that was reiterated in July 1998 by President Emil Constantinescu. The Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church agreed, on December 16, 1998, for the visit of the Pope in Romania and on February 12, 1999, Patriarch Teoctist addressed an invitation to His Holiness. Pope John Paul II accepted the invitation on March 12, 1999.
The visit of Pope John Paul II in Romania took place between May 7-9, 1999.
The esteemed guest arrived in Bucharest on May 7, at noon, being greeted at the airport by President Emil Constantinescu, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Father Teoctist, the Roman Catholic Archbishop Ioan Robu, Metropolitan of the Romanian Church United with Rome, Lucian Muresan, the Apostolic nuncio, Jean-Claude Perisset and other notable individuals in Romanian public and political life.
The welcoming ceremony comprised of an inspection of the honor guard and the intonation of the anthems of the Vatican and Romania.
Answering the welcome, His Holiness Pope John Paul II uttered a speech in Romanian: "With great joy I come, today, to Romania, a nation dear to me and that I wished for a long time to visit. With great emotion I kissed the ground, grateful before anything to God almighty that, in His provident goodwill, allowed me to see this thought accomplished. (...) I trust that my visit will help heal the wounds produced in time between our Churches in the fifty years that passed and will open a up a new season of reciprocal collaboration full of trust (...)"
The Pope reminded of the apostolic mission of Saint Andrew in Dobrogea (southeastern Romania) and the long Christian tradition of Romanians: "The seed of the Gospel, falling into fertile land, produced, in these two millennia, bore abundant fruits of holiness and martyrdom. I think of Saint John Cassian and Dionysius Exiguus, which contributed to transmitting the spiritual, theological and canonical wealth of the Greek orient to the Latin Occident; then, later on, at voivode Stephen the Great and Holy, 'a true athlete of the Christian faith', as Pope Sixt IV called him and other numerous servants of the Gospel, among them ruler and martyr Constantin Brancoveanu and more recently, the numerous martyrs and confessors of the faith."
After reminding, in his speech, of the hardships that our nation went through during the communist regime, Pope John Paul II encouraged the Romanian people by saying: "Romania, bridge country between Orient and Occident, turning point between Central and Oriental Europe, Romania, that tradition names with the beautiful title of "Garden of Virgin Mary", I come to you in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of God and of the Holy Virgin Mary. On the eve of a new millennium, build your future upon the hard rock of the Gospel. With the help of Christ, you will be the protagonist in a new period of enthusiasm and courage. You will be a prosperous nation, a land rich with goodness, a solidary and peace-creating people. May God favor you and bless you always!"
After the welcoming ceremony, the Supreme Pontiff and Patriarch Teoctist headed, in the Popemobile, towards the Palace of the Patriarchy, the motorcade being greeted by tens of thousands of citizens of the Capital. Following their arrival, the first meeting between the two heads took place. The evening was concluded with an official reception offered in the Pope's honor at Cotroceni Palace.
The following day, the official program was comprised of a visit to the Bellu Catholic Cemetery where Pope John Paul II brought homage to the Greek Catholic priests that fell victim to Communist persecution: Iuliu Hossu (1885-1970), cardinal 'in pectore' and Vasile Aftenie (1899-1950) the first bishop to die in Communist prison. The Supreme Pontiff also stopped at the Heroes of the Revolution Cemetery, as an homage brought to the victims of December 1989. He then attended the Greek Catholic Divine Liturgy service at the "Saint Joseph" Cathedral in Bucharest.
The day's central event was the meeting between the Pontiff and Patriarch Teoctist and the members of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church, event attended by President Emil Constantinescu, Prime Minister Radu Vasile, the Presidents of the Chambers of Parliament and notable individuals of public life, as well as representatives of the foreign embassies accredited in Bucharest.
His Beatitude Father Teoctist heralded the Pope's visit to Bucharest as "a unique event in our Church".
"Even if a lot of people doubted the possibility of this visit being conducted", said the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, "God made it so that the following words came true: 'where God wishes the limits of nature can be defeated'".
The Eucharistic liturgy was conducted on the third day of the visit, May 9, in Izvor Park in Bucharest, with His Beatitude Father Teoctist in attendance, as well as over 200.000 Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, and Orthodox believers from Bucharest and all over the country. The 'Pontifex Maximus' conducted the service and uttered his sermon in Romanian and then blessed the believers in Romanian, Hungarian, German and Polish.
"From this capital, I wish to embrace all of Romania, and all its inhabitants: all of them, near and far, I ensure them of my affection and my prayer. It is a great spiritual joy for me to be on Romanian land and thank God together with you for the wonderful wonders he has done, which the Paschal Liturgy invites us to recall with joy and gratitude towards the Lord. (...) In the name of this great ecumenical inspiration, I address those who believe in Christ, those who live in Romania. I am here among you animated only by the wish for true unity and the will to fulfill the Petrine ministry that God has entrusted me with among my brothers and sisters of the faith."
At the end of the service, the Sovereign Pontiff addressed 'with all his heart' an invitation to His Beatitude Teoctist to come to Rome. For the second time, Pope John Paul II invited Patriarch Teoctist in the Popemobile, to accompany him to the Bucharest-Baneasa Airport.
"These were days of profound emotion that I've lived with intensity and that will remain etched forever in my heart. We receive as a gift from God the events that we have participated together in, with full trust that they will bear fruits of grace for Christians as well as for the entire population of Romania. Your country has inscribed in its roots a singular ecumenical calling. Through its geographic position and its long history, through culture and tradition, Romania is a house where Orient and Occident can meet in natural dialogue. (...) I reiterate my wish that the weapons may be lain down so that meetings can be held once more and new and efficient dialogues of communion and peace can take place! An important role, in this matter, falls upon Christians, regardless of the rite they belong to. They are called today to live and demonstrate with the highest boldness their brotherhood, so that peoples may be encouraged, even more, determined to find themselves and consolidate what they share. The spiritual event that we have lived, blessed by Saint Demetrius and the Holy Martyrs of the past decades, is an experience to keep and tell of in the hope that the new millennium that opens up in front of us be a time of greater communion between Christian churches and of discovery of nations' fraternity. This is the dream that I bear with me while I leave this beloved land", said the Sovereign Pontiff.
On May 12, 1999, Pope John Paul II started his sermon during the General Audience referring to the visit in Romania: "My thoughts always come back with vivid emotion to the visit that God gave me the opportunity to make the past days to Romania. It was a historical event, being my first trip to a country where the Christians are predominantly Orthodox".
This historic visit was amply covered by the international mass-media, press agencies and international press allotting ample space for the event.
Pope John Paul II passed away on April 2, 2005.
On May 1, 2011, Pope John Paul II was beatified by his successor Benedict XVI, and on April 27, 2014, Pope Francis declared him a saint in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands of believers coming from all around the world. AGERPRES
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