During his apostolic trip to Romania from May 31 to June 2, 2019, Pope Francis plans to celebrate Mass in one of the most celebrated Marian shrines in Central Europe: Our Lady of Transylvania in Sumuleu-Ciuc.
The Marian Shrine of Transylvania—also called Virgin Mother of Csiksomlyo—was built in the 1440s by the heroes of the war against Muslim Turks, the Hungarian Prince Jean Hunyadi (1407-1456) and his son Matthias Corvin I the Just (1443-1490).
Entrusted to the sons of St. Francis, who owned a convent nearby, the place soon became a center of diffusion of the Marian cult, as well as a center for the defense of the Catholic Faith and fidelity to the Church.
Indeed, when part of the region, dominated by the Hungarian and Saxon minorities, passed into Calvinism, and that on the eve of Pentecost 1571, Catholics were massacred by the followers of the new religion, the inhabitants of Miercurea-Ciuc—the capital near the sanctuary—defended themselves with courage and merited preserving their faith.
In 1661, during the invasion of the Turks, the church was destroyed at the same time as the Franciscan convent, but the statue of the Virgin was fortunately sheltered. Tradition has it that when Turkish troops forced their way into the church, and attempted to carry off the statue to destroy it, they had to give it up, because the carved image of the Virgin, though light, had grown incredibly heavier.
Despite several attempts, the Mohammedans were not successful in lifting it. Their commander then decided to draw his sword to cut the statue in half. In the meantime, the face of the statue began to bleed, wounds appeared from which blood gushed—we can still see traces of it today.
Frightened by this miracle, the Muslim soldiers fled the convent without demanding their relic, abandoning the church that had fallen prey to the flames. When the faithful returned, the sanctuary was nothing more than a heap of ashes, except the statue of the Virgin, which remained intact.
After Turkish rule, in the early 1800s, the shrine was rebuilt and the old image was moved. Currently, the Virgin Mother of Csiksomlyo is the most popular pilgrimage site in Transylvania. It is located in the diocese of Alba Iulia, which mainly includes Hungarian-speaking Catholics.
The pontiff plans to celebrate Mass on June 1 in this place, the second leg of his apostolic journey in Romania. In this country live about 1.5 million Catholics—or 7.4% of the total population—most of them in Transylvania, under the protection of the Virgin Mary, “terrible as an army set in battle array,” who preserved her Hungarian children from heresy and schism.
The trip will also be an opportunity to beatify seven Greek Catholic bishops persecuted and imprisoned by the communists for refusing to join orthodoxy (between 1950 and 1970). If this ceremony is not pleasing to the Romanian Orthodox, it will unfortunately also be an opportunity to recall the “ecumenism of blood” so dear to Pope Francis.