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Romanians’ faith survived persecution, archbishop tells synod
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — An emotional account of how Catholics in communist Romania held fast to their faith despite persecution and humiliation drew resounding applause from some 240 participants at the world Synod of Bishops.
Romanian-rite Archbishop Lucian Muresan of Fagaras-Alba Iulia underlined the great hopes of the Catholic community despite past hardships and present challenges. According to information released by the Vatican , his Oct. 6 talk, four days into the synod sessions, was the first to draw applause from the bishops who were gathered at the Vatican for three weeks to discuss the role of the Eucharist in the life of the church.
People’s hunger for the bread of God could not be quashed, not even when the church was brutally repressed from 1948 to 1990 by the communists, Archbishop Muresan said.
“The communists tried to give man material bread alone and wanted to chase the ‘bread of God’ from society and the heart of the human person,” he said.
The archbishop said the people now realize it was the regime’s fear “of the God present in the Eucharist” that led it to outlaw the Romanian Catholic Church, an Eastern-rite church. All its religious orders were suppressed and its churches were expropriated by the state or transferred to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Romanian-rite Catholics were forced to become Orthodox.
Latin Catholics in Romania were also persecuted severely, but their church institutions were not completely suppressed.
As part of the regime’s “re-education and brainwashing” strategies in the prisons, Romanian Catholic priests were forced to celebrate the Divine Liturgy “with excrements,” Archbishop Muresan said.
He said the persecutors’ aim was “to compromise priests, to ridicule the Eucharist and to destroy human dignity,” but they “never managed to take away (the people’s) faith.”
Despite the danger of imprisonment for being Catholic or for participating in the Divine Liturgy, Catholics still celebrated underground, he said.
The archbishop said no one will ever know how many liturgies were “clandestinely celebrated with a spoon rather than the chalice and with wine made from grapes found in the street, how many rosaries made by a thread with pieces of bread.”
Also unknown are the number of strip searches conducted during the “minus-30-degree winters” and the number of days people spent in the “famous ‘black room’ as the punishment for having been found in prayer,” he said.
“These modern martyrs of the 20th century offered all their suffering to the Lord for dignity and human freedom,” he said.
He said the people’s hunger for God and the Eucharist is evident from the 80 percent of the country’s faithful taking part in the Divine Liturgy and from the abundant priestly and religious vocations since the fall of communism.
“Unfortunately, after the fall of the regime, some heavy plagues have risen in our country: abortion, the abandonment of children, corruption,” he said.
“Communism promised man paradise on earth and managed to destroy the conscience of our people in Eastern Europe ; now to rebuild this will take time,” he said.
He said “there is no lack of hope” among the people, who still possess a “deep religious sense” and a “deep devotion” to the liturgy and the Eucharist.
Though Romania is a predominantly Orthodox country, Archbishop Muresan said Catholics and their Orthodox neighbors will “try to mend these wounds.”