The Romanian Greek Catholic Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. Its head, Cardinal Lucian Mureșan, is one of only four Catholic leaders worldwide to hold the title “Major Archbishop.”
Percă said that in general relations between Catholics and Romanian Orthodox Christians were cordial, both at the local level and among hierarchs.
“People live in good understanding in their communities, they work together, there are many mixed marriages,” he said.
“When it comes to the rights of the Church, regardless of denomination, everyone is united in the defense of the principles that guarantee the rights and freedom to exercise worship.”
Nevertheless, there are challenges, some of them relating to the communist era, which lasted from 1947 to 1989.
“Unfortunately, there are also a few specific situations in which Orthodox who enter and pray in a Catholic church are reproached by some Orthodox priests; and Catholics who want to be godparents at an Orthodox baptism or wedding are asked to convert to the Orthodox Church; or in a mixed marriage in the Orthodox Church, there might be requests that the Catholic side be re-baptized,” the archbishop said.
“More strained relations are on a larger scale in Transylvania, where the restitution of property belonging to the Greek Catholic Church has not yet been resolved. In 1948, the communist government outlawed the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, confiscated its properties, and handed them over to the Romanian Orthodox Church.”
But Percă underlined that, despite these problems, ecumenical ties were positive.
“At the hierarchical level, there are contacts between bishops, exchanges of greetings and messages at major holidays and invitations to events on both sides; also, joint participation in various national, regional and even local events by priests,” he said.
“The Catholic Church of both rites in Romania desires to cultivate a healthy ecumenical spirit, which is to the benefit of all, believers, priests and bishops.”
The archbishop is already looking ahead to the post-coronavirus era, when he will govern an archdiocese much changed from when he inherited it from his predecessor Archbishop Ioan Robu, who served from 1983 to 2019.
“It has often been heard, even since reaching the height of the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, that after this crisis, that the world will no longer be as it was, that we have to be more responsible to those around us and to the environment, that we have to consider solidarity between people as a priority,” Percă said.
“I believe that it will be difficult to achieve these ideals in the short term. I think there is the need to form a ‘post-COVID-19’ generation that will establish a different kind of relationship between people.”
He continued: “Here I feel there is a special challenge regarding the way the Church will be able to implement and propose different pastoral actions for the mission among the faithful, taking into account the fact that often these interventions must be correlated with the steps taken by other denominations, but also with the approaches of the civil society.”
“In Romania, the general population still regards the Church with great hope. But many state interventions seem to counteract its effectiveness: for example, the tendency to eliminate the teaching of Religion in schools, the imposition of sex education in school curricula, without prior consultation with family associations or with representants of denominations, thus restricting the free choice of families to choose what they consider to be good for their children, freedom guaranteed by the Romanian Constitution.”
The archbishop added that the Church must work for fundamental cultural change.
“So, I wonder how we can prepare the young generation for the ‘post-COVID-19’ period. We need to change the underlying cultural orientation; first of all, we Christians need to do it, by cultivating a very strong sense of responsibility,” he reflected.
“Without the conjugation of all forces of all denominations, but especially without the support of the state -- with correct laws -- we will reach a situation of permanent conflict. I hope that in Romania, as in the whole world, the power of faith for the renewal of the world will be taken into account.”
He noted that Catholics were already returning to church in Bucharest archdiocese, as new coronavirus cases continue to fall from their peak last November and the government opens vaccination centers around the country.
“Before the coronavirus pandemic, the participation in celebrations in churches was 50-60%. Despite the restraint that some people have for the time being, an increasing number of believers have returned to churches, sometimes assisting to the Holy Mass outside the church premises, facing the low temperatures of this winter,” he said.
“The faithful of the Archdiocese of Bucharest, and not only, know that the Church is their support, hope, and salvation.”
“So, I encourage all Catholic believers in other parts of the world to have the courage to live the faith in the parish communities to which they belong.”
A Romanian version of this article can be found here.