Pope Francis braved a rain-soaked, twisting drive through the mountains of Transylvania on Saturday to visit Romania’s most famous shrine, urging Romanian and ethnic Hungarian faithful to work together for their future.
Storms forced Francis to change his transport plans and add in a three-hour car ride through the Carpathian mountains that he had planned to traverse via helicopter. The steady rains doused the faithful gathered for Mass at the Sumuleu Ciuc shrine, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The showers let up as Francis arrived and he made a quick run through the poncho-clad crowds in his popemobile. But he seemed unsteady after the long trip and held onto the arms of aides as he negotiated a mud-slicked path to get to the altar for Mass.
Pope Francis urged ethnic Hungarians and Romanians to put their troubled past behind.
More than 80,000 people gathered on muddy slopes around one of Romania’s most popular Catholic shrines to see the pope on the second day of his trip to the country.
Transylvania, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War, has a large ethnic Hungarian population and there have been tensions sometimes between ethnic Hungarians and Romanians. Ethnic Hungarians, many of whom are Catholic in a predominantly Orthodox Christian nation, are the largest minority in Romania, around six percent of the population.
This has often caused friction between the two European Union neighbors with tensions flaring occasionally over the public use of ethnic minority flags.
In his homily to the rain-soaked crowd, which included Hungarian President Janos Ader, the pope suggested past troubles should not be a barrier to co-existence.