On May 5, 1999 Pope John Paul II announced at the Vatican in a message in Romanian that he was about to make a visit in Romania the next day. His visit marked a significant improvement in relations between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The moment had a remarkable historical significance because it was the first time since the East-West Schism in 1054 when a pope visited a predominantly Orthodox country.
Who was Pope John Paul II?
Pope John Paul II was born in Wadowice, Poland on 18 May, 1920 under the name of Karol Jozef Wojtyla. He was the Pope of the Catholic Church and Bishop of Rome from 1978 until his death in 2005. He was the first pope born outside of Italy since 1522 and his serving time as pope (26 years) was the third in the history of Catholic Church. On May 13, 1981 he was almost killed by Mehmet Ali Agca in St. Peter’s Square and two years later, the pope publicly forgave the aggressor.
The Pope’s health deteriorated in the first months of 2005 and he had to be hospitalized because of a respiratory difficulty. Although doctors managed to improve his health, between March 31 and April 1 he suffered a septicemia due to a urinary tract infection. He died the next day and Benedict XVI was declared his successor.
For the first time, a Pope visits an Orthodox Country
Teoctist Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church invited Pope John Paul II in February 1999 to visit Romania. On May 7, 1999, Pope John Paul II arrived in Romania. It was the first time when a Pope had visited a predominantly Orthodox country since the two churches split in 1054. It was a dream for both sides that came true.
When the guest arrived at the airport at noon, he was greeted by President Emil Constantinescu, Patriarch Teoctist, Roman Catholic Archbishop Ioan Robu and other notable individuals from Romania. Pope John Paul II answered to the welcome by giving a speech in Romanian:“I come to your land as a pilgrim of peace, brotherhood and understanding the nations, between peoples and among the disciples of Christ.”
Later on the Pope reminded about the long tradition of Romanians and he stated: “Romania, bridge country between Orient and Occident, turning point between Central and Oriental Europe, Romania, that tradition names with the beautiful title of Garden of Virgin Mary.” After the welcoming ceremony, the Pope headed in the Popemobile to the Orthodox Cathedral with Patriarch Teoctist at his side, both of them smiling broadly. He was greeted by thousands of people until they arrived.
The next day, the Pope visited a cemetery where he brought homage to the Greek Catholic priests that felt victim to Communist persecution. He also stopped at the Heroes of the Revolution Cemetery where he brought homage to the victims of December 1989 (Romanian Revolution). Later on, the central event took place where important individuals attended.
The last day was opened with a Eucharistic liturgy in a public park from Bucharest. Over 200,000 people attended at the event. The crown was formed by Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics and Orthodox from Romania. In his visits, Pope John Paul II tried to unite the two sides of the Christians. He also spoke about the bombings campaign next door in Yugoslavia asking for peace.