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BUCHAREST, Romania — Pope Francis will pay tribute to Christians killed during the communist era during his three-day, cross-country pilgrimage to Romania.
The pontiff's visit, which began Friday, comes on the heels of the European Parliament elections that hollowed out the political middle in the bloc. Francis is expected to speak about issues confronting the continent during the trip.
Francis will beatify seven Greek-Catholic bishops who were killed during communist rule, when Catholics were brutally persecuted. They were declared martyrs earlier this year, putting them on the road to sainthood.
Catholics make up a little more than five percent of Romania's 20 million people, according to government figures.
Francis and Patriarch Daniel, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church, are scheduled to each recite the Our Father prayer in the Orthodox Cathedral, a towering new construction that was funded in part by a $200,000 donation by St. John Paul II when he visited in 1999.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti stressed that while the two religious leaders would physically be praying in the same place, they would not pray together, an important distinction for many Orthodox.
John Paul's 1999 visit to Romania, just 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the first by a pope to a majority Orthodox country since the Great Schism divided Christianity in 1054.
It was marked by an extraordinary welcome for a Polish pope who helped bring down communism. During his Mass, shouts of "unity, unity" rose up from the crowd.
As then, the issue of confiscated property of the Catholic Church that was given to the Orthodox during communist rule remains a sore spot in relations. Gisotti said there were no plans for any public discussion of the dispute, but didn't rule out private talks.