Europe’s right-wing populists could try to exploit Pope Francis’ trip to Romania at the end of May to embolden hostile attitudes toward migrants and refugees. But the pope can head them off by voicing a clear message of support for the tenet of welcoming the stranger.
When Pope St. John Paul II visited Romania in 1999, he stayed in the country’s capital of Bucharest and met with Romania’s Orthodox Christian leaders. But Pope Francis has said he will not stop there. He is expected to celebrate an outdoor Mass on June 1 at the shrine of Our Lady of Csíksomlyó (a pilgrimage site called Şumuleu Ciuc in Romanian) for a crowd that might be as big as 500,000. Although Francis will speak in Italian, his homily will be translated into Hungarian.
How is it that a pope is going to pray with Hungarians in the middle of Romania? Csíksomlyó is about 250 miles from the Hungarian border, but it is Hungarians’ holiest site. Our Lady of Csíksomlyó is in Transylvania, a region that was part of Hungary until 1918. Although the borders changed after World War I, they never did in the minds of the Hungarian minority who live around Csíksomlyó. From 2009 to 2013, I conducted research as an anthropologist and lived at the pilgrimage site, even joining the shrine’s official choir.