Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash

On the second day of his visit to Romania, Pope Francis celebrated diversity at an open-air mass attended by tens of thousands of people in a predominantly ethnic-Hungarian part of the Transylvania region.

The mass which was seen as the highlight of his trip was keenly awaited for reasons of both faith and national identity in majority Orthodox Romania, where believers suffered under the post-war decades of Communist rule.

The Catholics in the “Szeklerland” area, where some 600,000 ethnic-Hungarians comprise a majority of the population, considered the pope’s visit as a welcome recognition of their identity.

Golden rose

Pope Francis called on pilgrims not to be “afraid to mingle, to embrace and to support each other”.

Up to about 100,000 people attended the ceremony.  As a tradition when visiting major Marian shrines, the Argentinian pontiff presented a golden rose at the large wooden replica of the Madonna.

Pilgrims from abroad

Most pilgrims were Romania-based ethnic-Hungarians, but organisers had said some 25,000 also traveled from Hungary itself, as well as from Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine, all countries with sizeable Hungarian communities.

Pope Francis’ mass Saturday was translated into both Romanian and Hungarian.

Journey across the country

The pope continued his journey across the country over the weekend. Then, he met with youngsters in Lasi city in northeastern Romania. The three- day visit was broadcast live on many television channels.

Thousands had lined the streets to wave to Francis in his pope mobile and filled two cathedrals in Bucharest. The Pope also had a private meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Daniel despite strained relations, and they prayed alongside each other — one in Latin and the other in Romanian.