MIERCUREA CIUC, Romania (AP) – Pope Francis braved a rain-soaked, twisting drive through the mountains of Transylvania on Saturday to visit Romania’s most famous shrine, urging Romanian and ethnic Hungarian faithful to work together for their future.
Storms forced Francis to change his transport plans and add in a three-hour car ride through the Carpathian mountains that he had planned to traverse via helicopter. The steady rains doused the faithful gathered for Mass at the Sumuleu Ciuc shrine, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The showers let up as Francis arrived and he made a quick run through the poncho-clad crowds in his popemobile. But he seemed unsteady after the long trip and held onto the arms of aides as he negotiated a mud-slicked path to get to the altar for Mass.
In his homily, Francis praised the multicultural and multilingual tapestry that makes up Romania and urged its people to put aside past divisions for the sake of “journeying together.”
The rights of around 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians in Romania have been at the center of political feuds between the two countries for decades. Hungary lost Transylvania in the peace treaties after World War I.
Those tensions are often reflected in the uneasy relationship between the Roman Catholic and Greek-Catholic communities here, the two rites that make up the Catholic minority in the overwhelmingly Orthodox country.
“Complicated and sorrow-filled situations from the past must not be forgotten or denied, yet neither must they be an obstacle or an excuse standing in the way of our desire to live together as brothers and sisters,” he said.
The pope delivered the homily in Italian, and it was translated into Romanian and Hungarian, to reflect that Hungarian is most common in this part of Romania.
After Mass, Francis is to drive three hours back to the airport for a flight to another corner of Romania, Iasi in the northeast. There he’ll meet with young Romanians.
Francis is travelling across Romania to visit its far-flung Catholic communities to make up for the fact that St. John Paul II was only allowed to visit the capital, Bucharest, in 1999 in the first-ever papal visit to a majority Orthodox country.
Winfield reported from Rome.