15 October 2015
Dedicated to the Dormition of Mary, this Greek Catholic church in the village of Ieud, in the Maramures district of Transylvania, was returned to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church in 1991.
(photo: George Martin)
The two weeks before Christmas 1989 were more frenzied than usual for Romanians. Fueled by the fall of the Berlin Wall, rallies in the Romanian city of Timisoara, first held to protest the ouster of a popular Protestant pastor, László Tőkés, became anti-Communist marches. Ruthlessly, the Romanian regime’s dreaded secret police, the Securitate, responded by firing on the crowds, killing hundreds. Riots spread to other Romanian cities, including the capital of Bucharest, where civil war soon erupted.
By Christmas morning, the violence had ended as quickly as it had begun: The nation’s dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, lay in a pool of blood with his wife, Elena. Both were executed after caught fleeing the capital. A provisional government restored order and began a new chapter in the life of the country, including abrogating orders of the former regime dissolving the Romanian Greek Catholic Church (also called the Romanian Church United With Rome) 41 years earlier.
Greek Catholics prepare to receive the Eucharist in the parish church in Sisesti, a village in the historic Maramures region of Romania. (photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)
Until Ceausescu’s spectacular fall, Romania’s surviving Greek Catholics rarely revealed their faith. Their last known bishops, jailed as “class enemies,” died in prison or under house arrest. Churches, schools and other assets were seized and turned over to the Romanian Orthodox Church, which had absorbed most of the clergy and laity after a government-sponsored synod of Romanian Greek Catholic priests severed ties with Rome in 1948. Now suddenly, in less than a fortnight, the nightmare for Romania’s Greek Catholics had ended, ironically beginning a painful process of regrouping and rebuilding, for which they were ill-prepared.
Who are Romania’s Greek Catholics? And what is the Romanian Church United With Rome? These questions are some of the most controversial in Central Europe. For what motivates this community of faith — who share the Byzantine legacy with their Romanian Orthodox brethren — is their ardor for their nation, which they helped nurture into being, and their union with Rome, itself prompted by their quest for civil rights.
Read a full account of Romania’s Greek Catholics here.