VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 30, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II encouraged the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches when he received Romanian President Ion Iliescu in audience.
The president’s visit to the Vatican today served to inaugurate an exhibition in the Vatican Museums dedicated to “Stephen the Great, Bridge Between East and West.”
The meeting gave the Holy Father the opportunity to recall his visit to Romania in 1999 “with emotion and gratitude.” It was the first time a pope visited a country of Orthodox majority.
A “pilgrim of faith and hope, I was welcomed enthusiastically by you and the authorities of the state, His Beatitude Patriarch Teoctist and by the entire people of the venerable Romanian Orthodox Church,” John Paul II recalled.
“I received an especially fraternal embrace from the bishops and the beloved Catholic communities, of both the Byzantine and Latin rites,” he added.
Before taking leave of the president, the Holy Father expressed in Italian to him and Romania “an affectionate wish for prosperity and peace.”
Iliescu gave the Pope a series of Romanian lithographs, and the Holy Father gave the president a collection of papal medals.
The exhibition on Stephen the Great, which will be open until Oct. 31, was organized by the Romanian Ministry of Culture and Worship in collaboration with the Vatican Museums.
It recalls the fifth centenary of the death of Prince Stephen (1457-1504), who created a Moldovan and Romanian political reality, the reason why he was called “Great.”
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, accompanied by Iliescu, inaugurated the exhibition today. It exhibits objects, documents and artworks that have played an important part in Romania’s history.
In particular, the “Vatican Register 578” is on display, kept in the Vatican Secret Archives, which contains correspondence between Pope Sixtus IV and Prince Stephen the Great.
“Stephen the Great remains in the minds of Romanians as the defender of the sense of belonging to Romania,” said Mihail Dobre, the country’s ambassador to the Holy See, stressing the role the prince played in the defense of the Christian identity of Europe in the face of Ottoman influence.
Because of this, Sixtus IV referred to the prince in his letters as an “authentic athlete of the Christian faith.”
These letters, the ambassador added in statements published by ADN-Kronos agency, show the existing ties between a prince of the Orthodox faith and the Church of Rome.
Of Romania’s close to 23 million inhabitants, the Orthodox constitute about 87%. According to the Church’s Statistical Yearbook, Catholics constitute 8.06%.