.- Meeting with the new Romanian ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern on Saturday about damage being done to St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral in Bucharest due to the nearby construction of a corporate high-rise. He also urged respect for religious liberty, especially for Eastern Rite Catholics, who had suffered during the previous communist rule, reported The Associated Press.
Romanian church officials and nongovernmental organizations have argued that the new construction, a few meters from the 130-year-old cathedral, will weaken the structure of the important landmark.
Benedict noted that the archbishop of Bucharest has made numerous appeals to government authorities "to preserve the historic patrimony … and the values of faith that it represents."
The Pope balanced his critique by expressing joy over the “progress” in government efforts over the "delicate handling" of the restitution of church property, which was confiscated during former communist times in Romania.
The communist government confiscated about 2,500 churches in Romania in 1948, and Eastern Rite Catholics, who follow Orthodox ritual but are loyal to the Vatican, were banned. The ban was lifted after the 1989 anti-communist revolt, but most of the churches have not been returned.
The Pope also highlighted, for the new ambassador, the Holy See's satisfaction at Romania's recent entry into the European Union. He dwelt on the "long Christian tradition" of the country and voiced the hope that it will make "an original contribution to the European edifice, helping it to be not just an economic force and a market of consumer goods," but also giving it "a new political, cultural and spiritual impulse, capable of building a prosperous future for new generations."
"For many years," Pope Benedict continued, "your country has been making great efforts towards the renewal of society, with the aim of healing the wounds of the past and enabling everyone to enjoy fundamental freedoms and to benefit from social and economic progress. ... It is just as important to ensure that everyone has equal access to independent and transparent justice." In this context, the Pope also called for "renewed attention to the poorest families, to help them educate their children with dignity."
In closing, the Pope sent a special greeting to the Catholic community in Romania, saying: "I know that the Catholic faithful take an active part in the life of the country, especially in the spiritual and social fields, and I heartily encourage them to bear courageous witness to the irreplaceable position of the family in society."