|Mission Report: Romania: October - November 2008|
Fr. Bill Bellrose, October-November 2008
My first trip to Romania was an eye-opening experience that reconfirmed how great is the need for HLI's Seminarians for Life program. The seminarians of Romania are open to life issues but sorely lacking in materials and training needed to make them tomorrow's pro-life priests. Fortunately, HLI is now there to help remedy this problem.
As I landed in Timisoara, which is in the western part of Romania, I prepared myself for what would be an intensive week of talks and meetings to further the cause of life in what was not so long ago a part of the Eastern Bloc under Soviet rule. To get things under way, I met with the board of HLI's affiliate in Romania, the Gift of Life Association. It was a good meeting in which we discussed the pro-life movement around the world and in Romania, and it included discussion about the main problems Romanians face and the successes they have enjoyed. In one success story, it was related that many doctors at their hospitals have begun refusing to perform abortions. However, when discussing the role of the Church in Romania's pro-life movement, the board expressed concern that many of the bishops do not speak out and do not support them in their work. Another challenge in their pro-life movement is that they lack an organized approach to supporting women who want to keep their baby.
My first few days in Romania were productive and busy as I preached at Masses, gave a talk at the Church about the dignity of being human, and prayed at vigils in front of abortion "clinics." I was also able to preach at the Adoration of the Cross and Holy Hours.
OPENING THE DOORS TO SEMINARIANS IN ROMANIA
My travel companion, Fr. Ioan Chisarau, and I made our way around this country, which is slightly smaller than the US state of Oregon, traveling through the mountainous regions to visit both Greek and Roman Catholic seminaries. The first was in Oradea, in the northwest corner. There, I gave a talk to a mixed group of students and seminarians. The rector of this seminary, Fr. Cristian Sabau, is one of the most pro-life rectors in Greek Catholic seminaries in Romania. He is forming new programs on which Fr. Ioan Chisarau, who is the deputy director of the Gift of Life Association, can work with him. Fr. Ioan has been a great supporter of this seminary and has been very influential in the development of its educational program.
I spoke on the international pro-life movement and Fr. Ioan talked about the pro-life movement specific to Romania. We had time for a question-and-answer session, and the seminarians raised very good questions about in vitro fertilization and euthanasia. Overall, the students were very receptive to the message.
SEMINARIANS RECEIVE THE GOSPEL OF LIFE
Traveling east through the mountains, we headed to Cluj, where we met with the pro-life director for the area. We had been told that the seminary there was not receptive to the pro-life message and that it viewed pro-life issues as personal. However, when I spoke with seminarians in Cluj, they seemed open to my message. I had the best reaction from them when I showed them the state of abortion laws around the world. I started with the African map, and then went to Europe. When they saw the contrast between the mostly pro-life laws in Africa and the mostly pro-death ones in Europe, they really started to pay attention. One of the questions I ask them during my talk was how many had read Humanae vitae and Evangeliam vitae? And I found that not one seminarian had read either document. I challenged them to read the documents so they would at least know what the Church teaches on these issues. In turn, they asked questions, which were of such a nature that it became clear that the pro-life movement and life issues were indeed very new to them.
I found a similar situation at the seminary in Blaj, where our talk was well attended, and even the rector and a moral theologian joined the seminarians to hear our message. For all their interest in the message we brought to them, not a single student had read either of the papal encyclicals, and the pro-life issues were equally unfamiliar to them.
However, there was no lack of interest on the part of these future priests. After Mass on the following morning, one of the seminarians related to me over breakfast how he had been considering all that I had talked about the previous night. He made an analogy between the sex education course in schools and drug dealers, comparing a teacher giving out free pills and condoms to a drug dealer giving out the first few drugs for free and then charging for them after their "clients" are addicted. This was a very relevant analogy, and the young man became very fired up about pro-life issues. It was good to see.
After breakfast, we met with the Greek Catholic bishop, His Beatitude Major Archbishop Lucian Muresan of the Fagaras and Alba Iulia dioceses. He was very supportive of the pro-life movement, and he thanked us for our work and encouraged us to return. He said he hopes that we can meet again soon to help promote the culture of life.
RADIO INTERVIEWS ON ROMANIAN CHRISTIAN RADIO
Between our talks to seminarians, Fr. Ioan and I did a radio interview on the only Christian radio station in that area of Romania. The interview went well. We were able to talk about the pro-life movement, the effects of abortion on society, and the importance of protecting life from fertilization until natural death. The talk show host asked some good questions, and it was nice to see that the local radio station was not afraid to talk about life issues.
In Alba Iulia we spoke at the Roman Catholic Seminary, where the rector, Fr. Olah Zoltan, was very cordial and open to us. Again, I asked who had read Humanae vitae and Evangelium vitae, and this was the first place where one person raised his hand to indicate he had read Evangelium vitae. Out of all of the seminaries I visited in Romania, only one seminarian had read one of the two documents. Again, the students were very open to the message, and one of them even volunteered to work with Fr. Ioan at the Gift of Life Association. After the talk, we were able to speak with the rector, and he told us that many of the students entering the seminary were very much in need of basic training on life issues.
At the close of our whirlwind week, we had come full-circle back to Timisoara, where we held a
conference for medical students. The topic was science supporting Church teaching, and the students received my talk very well. Their questions were not argumentative, but very open ones, asking primarily about end-of-life issues.
At the end of the week, I went on a pilgrimage with the Gift of Life Association to Maria Radna shrine. We said the outdoor Stations of the Cross for the unborn child. Then, we had Mass in the Shrine, and I preached on the importance of Mary and prayer in the pro-life movement.
I ended my time in Romania that night with meditations during Adoration of the Cross, which I took from Evangelium vitae, paragraphs 50 and 51, and ending with the last lines, "Grant, therefore, that we may listen with open and generous hearts to every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. Thus, we shall learn not only to obey the commandment not to kill human life, but also to revere life, to love it, and to foster it."