Man said it is very significant for Romanian Catholics that the beatification will be proclaimed by Pope Francis instead of a papal delegate, as is ordinary practice for beatifications.
It is an honor, he said, and, moreover, a sign of the Holy See’s recognition of the more than 40 years the laity, priests, and bishops of the Greek-Catholic Church in Romania spent underground while imprisoned, persecuted, and outlawed by the communist regime.
Each of these bishops was arrested and held in prisons and camps until they died, often from isolation, cold, hunger, disease, or hard manual labor. Most were never tried or convicted and were buried in unmarked graves, without religious services.
A year before his death, Bishop Iuliu Hossu was named a cardinal “in pectore.” After spending years in isolation, he died in a hospital in Bucharest in 1970. His last words were: “My struggle is over, yours continues.”
In addition to imprisonment and isolation, Bishop Vasile Aftenie was tortured at the Interior Ministry, later dying from his wounds May 10, 1950.
“This is not of small importance” for the Catholic Church in Romania, Man said. “We hope that with the visit of the Holy Father and with their beatification, [their example] can reinvigorate the faith of the people.”
He pointed out the importance of the martyred bishops’ examples in a world of increasing attachment to relativism and a subjective understanding of truth.
“We need figures that teach us steadfastness, fidelity, and proper principles, that teach us to be firm in [our] position,” he said, noting that each of the venerable bishops could have been released from prison had they abandoned the Church and become Orthodox under the regime’s “Church unification” plan.
He said they also teach people to “accept the will of God in every situation,” even intense persecution, which is important because “in the end, every one of us will have our place, our time in which we will have to give witness to our values.”
Despite increasing secularization in Europe, including Romania, the country remains very Christian, primarily Eastern Orthodox, which makes up around 70% of the population, Man said.
But the country’s Catholics, numbering no more than 6% of the population, are more diversified, which makes speaking about the Church in Romania “very complex,” he explained.
The majority of Catholics in the country are of the Latin rite, and come from Romanian, Hungarian, and German language and ethnic groups.
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There is also the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, to which the soon-to-be beatified bishops belonged, which is a Byzantine rite Church in communion with the Holy See.
The Church’s unity and faithfulness to Rome was part of the reason for its persecution under the communist regime. “During communism, the Church was banned, because the communistic government did not support a Church which could not be controlled... which had as its head a pope who was outside the borders of Romania,” Man explained.
He said the relationship between Eastern and Latin rite Catholics is very good: “On the liturgical level there is a great difference, but as Catholics ... when there is an event, everyone participates.”
“There is a good understanding” between the two, he said. “It is normal because we have the same faith, it is just that the faith is manifested in a different way liturgically. As the faith it is the same.”
Pope Francis’ visit May 31-June 2 will include meetings with the Latin Catholic community in Bucharest, with Hungarian Catholics at a Marian shrine in Miercurea-Ciuc – which before 1920 was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary – and with the Romanian Greek-Catholic community in Blaj.
Encounters with Eastern Orthodox will be more limited. Francis will meet privately with Patriarch Daniel of Romania and with a small group from the Holy Synod, finishing with a quick stop at a newly constructed Orthodox cathedral, where they will pray the Our Father together.