Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rome Mourns for Romania

By the thousands, the faithful of the Romanian Orthodox church have flocked to Bucharest to bid a final farewell to Patriarch Teoctist, who died on Monday aged 92.

The late prelate, who led Orthodoxy's second-largest branch through Romania's transition from dictatorship to democracy, likewise opened the doors to the ecclesiastical West. In 1999, he welcomed Pope John Paul II on the first-ever papal visit to a majority-Orthodox country since the Great Schism of 1054; the two are shown above at the close of a patriarchal liturgy during that trip. Teoctist visited the Vatican in 2002.

Amid criticism that he failed to sufficiently criticize the Cold War-era regime of Nicolae Caeusescu, Teoctist resigned the patriarachate to enter monastic life after the dictator was forced from office at the end of 1989. Three months later, however, he returned to the post after a popular appeal for his reversal of course.

In a telegram of condolence to the synod of the Romanian church released Wednesday by the Holy See, Pope Benedict said that "with fraternal affection in the Lord," he mourned the passing of "this distinguished and highly regarded church leader," whose ties with Rome, the Pope said, "strengthened and gave new impulse to the growing friendship" between East and West.

A keen admirer of Orthodoxy who's made better relations with it his first ecumenical priority, Benedict praised Teoctist and John Paul for being "filled with a determination to write a new page in the history of our communities, overcoming a difficult past which still burdens us today."

Both, he said, "look[ed] forward with confidence to the day when the divisions among the followers of Christ will be overcome."

Earlier today, Romanian President Traian Baescu conferred the country's highest honor posthumously on the patriarch, who became the first Romanian national to receive it. Tomorrow's daylong funeral rites will be led by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I; representing the Holy See will be the top two officials of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper and Bishop Brian Farrell LC, and the Vatican nuncio in Romania Archbishop Jean-Claude PĂ©risset.

As regards the succession, while the synodal election of the sixth patriarch of All Romania won't take place for another month, the cycle of speculation has already begun.