ROME – On Friday the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has added yet another trip to the end of his busy spring itinerary, and will travel to Romania for a 3-day visit at the end of May, marking the fifth international trip on the schedule so far this year.
According to a Jan. 11 statement from the Vatican, after receiving an invitation from Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and the leaders of the Catholic Church in Romania, Francis will travel to the country May 31-June 2, visiting the cities of Bucharest, Iaşi and Blaj, and stopping at the Marian shrine of Șumuleu Ciuc.
Francis’s schedule for the visit has yet to be released, however, the theme of the trip, “Let us walk together,” and the logo – depicting a pilgrimage of people walking side by side in front of an image of the Virgin Mary – were released along with the Jan. 11 announcement of the visit, the primary colors being blue, yellow and red.
Saint John Paul II visited the country in May 1999, marking the first time a pope had visited Romania and one of the first times a pope had set foot in a predominantly Eastern Orthodox nation following the Great Schism of 1054 which split eastern and western Christianity. At the time, John Paul’s visit was seen as an historic step in pursuing a rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds.
Francis’s trip to Romania caps what is shaping out to be a marathon for the 82-year-old pontiff, beginning with his Jan. 23-27 visit to Panama for the global World Youth Day gathering. He’ll then take three other international trips before Romania, traveling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Feb. 3-5; to Morocco March 30-31; and to Bulgaria and Macedonia May 5-7.
Rumor has it the pope will also travel to Japan in the fall, fulfilling his longtime dream of traveling to the country as a missionary. However, the trip has yet to be confirmed.
With several of the countries Francis is visiting being either of Islamic or Orthodox majorities, the mood of his trips, and possibly of his overall tone this spring, will likely focus on both interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, both of which are causes he has been committed to since his election in 2013.
In Romania, the pope’s longstanding devotion to Mary will also be on display in his visit to the Șumuleu Ciuc shrine, which is overseen by Franciscans and houses the popular local devotion of Our Lady of Csíksomlyó, drawing thousands of pilgrims each year for veneration.
Francis is known for having a “love affair” with Mary expressed in popular Catholic devotion that goes all the way back to his time in Buenos Aires.
As archbishop, he was known to participate in massive annual Marian pilgrimages to the Argentine shrine of Our Lady of Lujan, and at one point he said he made a promise to the Virgin of Carmel in 1990 to give up television.
Even now before and after every international trip he takes, he visits the highly venerated icon, the Salus Populi Romani (protectress of the Roman people) to both entrust his travels to her, and to give thanks. While traveling abroad, he typically stops to pray at the most prominent Marian site in the country he is visiting.
In a brief explanation of the logo and theme of Francis’s trip to Romania, the Vatican said Romania is often called the “garden of the Mother of God,” a term widely known to locals and which was also used by John Paul II during his 1999 visit.
Francis’s visit, the statement said, “takes up again this Marian accent, inviting (faithful) to unite all their forces under the protective mantel of the Madonna.”
“The Holy Father Francis has always urged the unity of various forces, rejecting selfishness and giving a central weight to the common good,” the statement said, adding that Francis will go to Romania to extend an invitation to unity, and to confirm Christians in their faith.