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Pope Warns Of Divisive Ideologies As He Beatifies Romanian Bishops

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Pope Francis Beatifies Communism Victims, Visits Romany Minority
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WATCH: Pope Francis Beatifies Communism Victims

BLAJ, Romania -- Pope Francis has warned against any new ideological attempt to sow fear or division in society as he beatified seven Romanian Greek-Catholic bishops who died in prison during Romania’s communist regime.

The bishops “endured suffering and gave their lives to oppose an illiberal ideological system that oppressed the fundamental rights of the human person," the pope told tens of thousands of worshipers attending Mass in the central town of Blaj on June 2.

On his third and final day in Romania, the pope also met with members of the Romany minority and asked forgiveness in the name of the Catholic Church for the mistreatment of the members of the community.

One of the goals of Francis's visit was to attempt to heal lingering resentments rooted in the centuries-old rift between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Christian denominations.

Romania is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian; about 5 percent of the country's 20 million people identify as Roman Catholic.

After the Habsburgs' occupation of Transylvania, many Romanians in the region converted in 1700 to the Greek Catholic Church, known here as the Romanian Church United with Rome. The church follows the Greek -- or Byzantine -- rite, but it recognizes the authority of the Roman Catholic pope.

Blaj is a stronghold of the Greek-Catholic Church, which was outlawed by the communists.

Pope Francis beatified the seven Greek-Catholic bishops who died between 1950 and 1970 during a Mass for at least 60,000 people in Blaj, in the region of Transylvania.

The bishops were arrested during communist rule in Romania and taken to prisons and camps until they died, suffering through cold, hunger, disease, and manual labor. Most did not receive a trial and were buried in unmarked graves, without religious services, according to the Catholic News Service.

Atena Boca, a Blaj resident, told RFE/RL: "I come from a Greek-Catholic family with great-grandparents [who were] Catholic priests [and] who went to jail because they refused to switch to Orthodox beliefs. So for me this is very emotional to be here."

Pope Francis meets with members of the Roma community in the Barbu Lautaru district of Blaj, Romania, on June 2.
Pope Francis meets with members of the Roma community in the Barbu Lautaru district of Blaj, Romania, on June 2.

In his homily, the pontiff warned against "new ideologies springing up" that were threatening Romanian families.

There are “forms of ideological colonization that devalue the person, life, marriage, and the family," Francis said.

President Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German whose religion is Christian Lutheran, atttended the Mass together with his wife, Carmen, who is a Greek-Catholic.

Later in the day, the pope met with members of the thousands-strong Romany community in Blaj, many of whom live in poor conditions on the periphery of society.

"I ask forgiveness in the name of the church...for the times when in the course of history we have discriminated against, mistreated, or mistrusted" the Romany people, he said in a speech.

"History tells us that Christians too, including Catholics, are not strangers to such evil," the pope added.

On June 1, Francis used a visit to Romania’s most famous shrine to urge the Romanian and ethnic-Hungarian faithful to work together for their future.

An estimated 150,000 people braved driving rain to attend the Mass at the Sumuleu Ciuc shrine, one of the highlights of the pontiff’s trip to Romania.

The showers let up as the Roman Catholic pontiff arrived at the shrine, located in the city of Miercurea Ciuc, about 300 kilometers north of the capital, Bucharest. Francis then made a quick drive through the poncho-clad crowds in his armored car, known colloquially as the "popemobile."

After the weather improved, Francis traveled by helicopter back to the airport for a flight to the university city of Iasi in the northeast, where he met with young Romanians and their families.

"It is a joy, it is a joy," said Elisabeta Balan, a 71-year-old mother of 11 children who was among those chosen to address the pope in Iasi.

"We are very happy that he came to Iasi and for this occasion we succeeded in bringing our big family together," she told AP.

Francis’s trip to Romania comes 20 years after Pope John Paul II received a warm welcome for his perceived role in the fall of communism.

The pope flew back to Rome later on June 2 out of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, AFP, AP, dpa, and the Catholic News Agency
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