Romanian Church

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Transylvania, presently one of the three major regions of Romania along with Wallachia and Moldavia, became part of Hungary in the early 11th century. Although the principality was also home to large numbers of Hungarians and Germans, who were mostly Latin Catholics, Orthodox Romanians made up the majority of the population. Soon after the province was taken by the Turks in the 16th century, Calvinism became widespread among the Hungarians, and Lutheranism among the Germans.

In 1687, the Hapsburg Austrian Emperor Leopold I drove the Turks from Transylvania and annexed it to his empire. It was his policy to encourage the Orthodox within his realm to become Greek Catholic. For this purpose the Jesuits began to work as missionaries among the Transylvanian Romanians in 1693. Their efforts, combined with the denial of full civil rights to the Orthodox and the spread of Protestantism in the area which caused growing concern among the Orthodox clergy, contributed to the acceptance of a union with Rome by Orthodox Metropolitan Atanasie of Transylvania in 1698. He later convoked a synod which formally concluded the agreement on September 4, 1700.

At first this union included most of the Romanian Orthodox in the province. But in 1744, the Orthodox monk Visarion led a popular uprising that sparked a widespread movement back to Orthodoxy. In spite of government efforts to enforce the union with Rome—even by military means—resistance was so strong that Empress Maria Theresa reluctantly allowed the appointment of a bishop for the Romanian Orthodox in Transylvania in 1759. In the end, about half of the Transylvanian Romanians returned to Orthodoxy.

It proved difficult for the new Greek Catholic community, known popularly as the Greek Catholic Church, to obtain in practice the religious and civil rights that had been guaranteed it when the union was concluded. Bishop Ion Inochentie Micu-Klein, head of the church from 1729 to 1751, struggled with great vigor for the rights of his church and of all Romanians within the empire. He would die in exile in Rome.

The Romanian Greek Catholic dioceses had originally been subordinate to the Latin Hungarian Primate at Esztergom. But in 1853 Pope Pius IX established a separate metropolitan province for the Greek Catholics in Transylvania. The diocese of Făgăraș-Alba Iulia was made metropolitan see, with three suffragan dioceses. Since 1737 the bishops of Făgăraș had resided at Blaj, which had become the church's administrative and cultural center.

At the end of World War I, Transylvania was united to Romania, and for the first time Greek Catholics found themselves in a predominantly Orthodox state. By 1940 there were five dioceses, over 1,500 priests (90% of whom were married), and about 1.5 million faithful. Major seminaries existed at Blaj, Oradea Mare, and Gherla. A Pontifical Romanian College in Rome received its first students in 1936.

The establishment of a communist government in Romania after World War II proved disastrous for the Romanian Greek Catholic Church. On October 1, 1948, 36 Greek Catholic priests met under government pressure at Cluj-Napoca. They voted to terminate the union with Rome and asked for reunion with the Romanian Orthodox Church. On October 21 the union was formally abolished at a ceremony at Alba Iulia. On December 1, 1948, the government passed legislation which dissolved the Greek Catholic Church and gave over most of its property to the Orthodox Church. The six Greek Catholic bishops were arrested on the night of December 29-30. Five of the six later died in prison. In 1964 the bishop of Cluj-Gherla, Juliu Hossu, was released from prison but placed under house arrest in a monastery, where he died in 1970. Pope Paul VI announced in 1973 that he had made Hossu a Cardinal in pectore in 1969.

After 41 years underground, the fortunes of the Greek Catholic Church in Romania changed dramatically after the Ceaușescu regime was overthrown in December 1989. On January 2, 1990, the 1948 decree which dissolved the church was abrogated. Greek Catholics began to worship openly again, and three secretly ordained bishops emerged from hiding. On March 14, 1990, Pope John Paul II reestablished the hierarchy of the church by appointing bishops for all five dioceses.

Unfortunately the reemergence of the Greek Catholic Church was accompanied by a confrontation with the Romanian Orthodox Church over the restitution of church buildings. The Catholics insisted that all property be returned as a matter of justice, while the Orthodox held that any transfer of property must take into account the present pastoral needs of both communities. As of mid-1998 this impasse had not been overcome. The Greek Catholics claim that they have received back only 97 of their 2,588 former churches, mostly in the Banat region where Orthodox Metropolitan Nicolae has been more willing to allow the return of Greek Catholic property.

Seminaries are functioning at Cluj, Baia Mare, and Oradea, and theological institutes have been set up in Blaj, Cluj and Oradea. The remains of Bishop Ion Inochentie Micu-Klein were returned to Romania and buried in Blaj in August 1997. In 1998 proceedings were initiated in Rome for the possible canonization of the Greek Catholic bishops who died during the communist persecutions. In Romania this church calls itself "The Romanian Church United with Rome."

Provincial councils of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church were held at Blaj from May 5 to 14, 1872, from May 30 to June 6, 1882, and from September 13 to 26, 1900. These councils passed legislation concerning various aspects of church life, and all were approved by the Holy See. The first session of the fourth provincial council took place at Blaj from March 17 to 21, 1997. It was to be celebrated in five sessions over a four-year period, to be concluded in 2000.

The size of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church is hotly disputed. The Greek Catholics themselves officially claim just over one million members (reflected in the figure given below) and in some publications state that they have as many as three million. A Romanian census carried out in January 1992 reported only 228,377 members, a figure the Greek Catholics firmly rejected.

The only diocese outside Romania is St. George's in Canton of the Romanians, which includes all the faithful in the United States, headed by Bishop John Michael Botean (1121 44th Street NE, Canton, Ohio 44714). The diocese has 15 parishes for 5,300 faithful. A community was recently formed in Sydney, Australia, under the pastoral care of Fr. Michael Anghel, 74 Underwood Road, Homebush 2140.

LOCATION: Romania, USA, Canada
HEAD: Metropolitan Lucian Mureșan (born 1931, appointed 1994)
TITLE: Archbishop of Făgăraș and Alba Iulia
RESIDENCE: Blaj, Romania
MEMBERSHIP: 1,119,000

Romanian parishes in Southern California include:

bulletSt. Mary Mission
11211 Moorpark St.
North Hollywood, CA 91620
(St. Anne Melkite-Greek Catholic Church)
Phone: (818) 753-2042

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