Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 28 January 2020

Pope Francis arrives in Romania with message of unity after EU elections

The three-day trip is the first papal visit since 1999

Romania's President Klaus Iohannis, his wife Carmen Iohannis and Pope Francis. AFP 
Romania's President Klaus Iohannis, his wife Carmen Iohannis and Pope Francis. AFP 

Pope Francis arrived in Romania on Friday for a three day visit to the mainly Orthodox country following divisive European Union elections.

Francis was welcomed in Bucharest by the country’s president Klaus Iohannis before driving through the streets of the capital where crowds had gathered to catch a glimpse of the pontiff.

The last papal visit to Romania was made in 1999 by John Paul II, who received a warm welcome from the nation that credited him with helping the fall of communism.

"I come to you to walk together," Francis said in a video message ahead of his departure.

"We walk together when we learn to keep the roots of the family, when we cater to the future of our children and of our brothers next to us, when we go beyond fear and suspicion, when we let the walls that divide us from others fall," he said.

Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), which has increasingly used Eurosceptic and nationalist rhetoric, suffered heavy losses at the recent European Parliament elections.

The party, which came to power in 2016, has increasingly tried to take away the independence of the judicial system in the country, attracting criticism from the EU and protesters. The PSD’s leader Liviu Dragnea was jailed for corruption on Monday.

Francis will meet the country’s prime minister Viorica Dancila, before addressing the nation in a televised speech.

A spokesman for the Vatican said the papal visit "will take into account" the EU populist gains.

The 82-year-old is likely to acknowledge anti-immigrant narratives that led to many populist parties including in nearby Hungary, making significant gains.

Updated: May 31, 2019 04:14 PM