Some 600 pilgrims with more than ten buses, accompanied by a dozen Jesuits from the Hungarian Province of the Society of Jesus hit the road at the end of May to journey to Romania. Their destination was a Hungarian national shrine to the Virgin Mary called Csíksomlyó (Șumuleu Ciuc), in Transylvania region, where they attended a mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
It was an event of historic importance for the Hungarian minority in Romania totalling 1,3 million. The reason: when John Paul II visited the country in 1999, being the first pope to have been invited by a country with an Orthodox majority, he failed to set foot in Transylvania. The region, once part of Hungary, became Romanian territory in 1920, and due to diplomatic reasons Karol Wojtyla confined his visit to Bucharest, the capital of the country. This left ethnic Hungarians (and Greek Catholics) living in Transylvania disappointed, so John Paul II assured them: if he ever returned, he would give priority to enter their homeland.
Now, after 20 years, it was Pope Francis by whose visit this promise was fulfilled, what is more, it was the historic national shrine Csíksomlyó (Șumuleu Ciuc) where he celebrated a mass for some 100 hundred thousand people. Hungarian Jesuit provincial Elemér Vízi concelebrated with the pontiff, among a number of bishops and priests, while some other members of the Society administered the Holy Communion. Accidentally, there are 12 Jesuits of Transylvanian origin working in the Hungarian Province, including the provincial, this way it was a personal plus for them to have this privilege.
The papal visit was a historic courtesy for the four, predominantly Hungarian speaking Catholic dioceses in Transylvania, and the pilgrims attending the mass were aware of the uniqueness of the event. They had been waiting for the liturgy to begin patiently in the wretched weather with rain, fog and wind – some of them under Jesuit flags and equipped with umbrellas decorated with the logo of the Socitey –, symbolizing the endurance of the Hungarian Catholics back in Communist Romania. In those times, although it was not advised to attend the annual Pentecostal mass in Csíksomlyó, many still found their way there, so the place became a symbol of faith, tenaciousness and persistence.
As for Transylvania itself, the region played an important part in the history of Hungary; in the 16th century even a papal legate, an Italian Jesuit named Antonio Possevino was sent there to inform the Holy See of the political, cultural and religious scene of the time. Accidentally, it was this very dear Jesuit who, in his work titled Transilvania, documented first the brewery of the once famous local beer, which sees its revival nowadays by a local manufacture.
The papal visit meant to promote reconciliation among the various nationalities and denominations of the multi-ethnical and -religious country: between Romanians, Hungarians and communities of German and Roma origin, Roman and Greek Catholic and Orthodox Christians, as well as Bulgarians, Slovakians and Croatians, just to name a few. In doing so, Pope Francis urged every faithful to stick to their roots, acknowledge one another’s values, thus walk together on the way of atonement. This message was all the more acute that Romania has long been criticised by Hungarians over the curtailment of minority rights. While on local levels there are many examples of peaceful and even fruitful cohabiting, ethnic Hungarians and Romanians have a long and troubled history in sharing the same country, with regular tensions frequently fuelled by officials and other political agents.
While the Society of Jesus in Romania belongs to the Euro-Mediterranean Province, the Hungarian Jesuits run a community house with a church, a university chaplaincy and a boarding house for students in Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mures), and share a binational house in Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare). Their primary focus is the pastoral care of the Hungarians there, but they serve German speaking and Romanian faithful as well, this way continuously facing the challenges and at the same time fruits of cohabiting and -working with the representatives of other cultures and denominations.