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Pope Francis says Catholics, Orthodox bonded by blood of the martyrs

Pope Francis receives an Orthodox icon from Patriarch Daniel of Romania (Getty)

Pope Francis said Friday that Catholics and Orthodox are bonded by a “shared inheritance” of suffering for Christ from the apostles to modern martyrs.

“How many were the martyrs and confessors of the faith! In recent times, how many, from different confessions, stood side by side in prisons to support one another in turn,” Pope Francis said May 30 during his apostolic trip to Romania.

“What they suffered for, even to the sacrifice of their lives, is too precious an inheritance to be disregarded or tarnished,” he said. “It is a shared inheritance and it summons us to remain close to our brothers and sisters who share it.”

In a meeting with Patriarch Daniel and the Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Bucharest, Pope Francis highlighted how Catholics and Orthodox suffered together under Romania’s former Communist regime.

During his three-day trip to Romania, Pope Francis will beatify seven Greek-Catholic bishops of Romania who were killed by the Communists between 1950 and 1970.

“The bonds of faith that unite us go back to the Apostles, the witnesses of the risen Jesus, and in particular to the bond between Peter and Andrew, who according to tradition brought the faith to these lands. Blood brothers, they were also in an exceptional way brothers in shedding their blood for the Lord,” Francis said in the Palace of the Patriarchate.

“They remind us that there exists a fraternity of blood that precedes us and that, as a silent and life-giving stream flowing down the centuries, has never ceased to nourish and sustain us on our journey,” he said.

Pope Francis’ trip to Romania marks the 20th anniversary of the first papal trip to Romania by St. John Paul II in 1999. At the time, John Paul II was prevented from traveling outside of the country’s capital of Bucharest, whereas Francis will also be visiting the Catholic communities in the regions of Transylvania and Moldova.

“Twenty years ago, before this Holy Synod, Pope John Paul II said, ‘I have come to contemplate the face of Christ etched in your Church; I have come to venerate this suffering face, the pledge to you of new hope,’” he said. “I too have come here as a pilgrim desirous of seeing the Lord’s face in the faces of my brothers.”

Pope Francis encouraged “journeying together,” remembering roots, not past grievances from wrongs endured.

In 1948, when the Communist party took power in Romania, the Greek Catholic Church was declared illegal. As many as 2,500 Greek Catholic church buildings and other assets were siezed and transferred to the Romanian Orthodox Church.

In the wake of the revolution of 1989, the Romanian Greek Catholic Church was restored, but Catholics struggled to have their properties returned, many of which remain in Romanian Orthodox or government ownership.

“The remembrance of steps taken and completed together encourages us to advance to the future in the awareness – certainly – of our differences, but above all in thanksgiving for a family atmosphere to be rediscovered and a memory of communion to be revived, that, like a lamp, can light up the steps of our journey,” Pope Francis said.

“May the Holy Spirit renew us, for he disdains uniformity and loves to shape unity from the most beautiful and harmonious diversity,” he said.

“May He, the creator of newness, make us courageous as we experience unprecedented ways of sharing and of mission,” Francis added. “May He, the strength of the martyrs, keep us from making His self-gift fruitless.”