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Fact Sheet: Romania

Fact Sheet: Romania

Capital: Bucharest
Chief cities: Bucharest, Brasov, Constanta, Timisoara, Iasi
Population: 23,155,000 (1989 census); urban 49%, rural 51%
Languages: Romanian, Hungarian and German
Government: Provisional republic
Chief religions: Romanian Orthodox, Catholic (Byzantine and Latin rites), Hungarian Reformed, Lutheran and Judaism
Natural resources: Crude oil, timber, natural gas, coal, iron ore, salt, petroleum, copper, lead and zinc

Originally the Dacian Kingdom, Romania was conquered by Emperor Trajan in 107 AD, and became a province of the Roman Empire. Modern Romanian, a Romance language, testifies to its Roman past.

After the empire’s collapse, Romania was settled by various barbarian tribes – Visigoths, Huns, Lombards and Bulgars. Influenced by the splendor of the Byzantine East, the tribes accepted Byzantine Christianity from Constantinople in the 11th century.

By the 13th century, these tribes formed the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Situated at the crossroads of important trade routes, these lands prospered under native princes. However, with the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 145 Wallachia and Moldavia became vassal states of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1861, after centuries of foreign rule, the principalities were re-united under a constitutional monarch and renamed “Romania.” Full independence from the Ottoman Empire was achieved in 1878. Following World War I, Transylvania, which lies west of the Carpathian mountains and was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, became a province of Romania. Until the rise of a fascist regime in 1931, Romania functioned as a constitutional monarchy.

Following World War II, King Michael, under severe pressure front Soviet-backed Romanian Communists, was forced to abdicate the throne. Romania was then declared a socialist republic.

Protests in the northwestern city of Timisoara on Dec. 17, 1989, set off a rush of events that led to the government’s downfall, when citizens sought to block the forced transfer of Rev. Laszlo Tokes, an ethnic Hungarian minister disliked by the government. The troops of President Nicolae Ceausescu, dictator of Romania for 24 years, fired into the crowd, killing an estimated 4,600 civilians.

On Christmas Day Ceausescu and his wife Elena were tried and shot under orders from the new provisional government. Romania is presently ruled by a collection of former members of the communist party and intellectuals known as the Council of National Unity, but the country’s future remains uncertain.

The overwhelming majority of Romania’s 23 million people are members of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The Church declared its independence from the ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople in 1885 and is centered in Bucharest.

Romania has the world’s second largest Orthodox population. Unlike other Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe, the Church has a powerful and well-educated laity and possesses two university-level theological academies, nine theological journal 8,000 priests and 122 monasteries for both men and women. The churches are also well-attended. The Orthodox Church, despite recent social and political upheavals, has survived intact.

After consolidating its power in 1948, the communist regime abolished the Byzantine rite Catholic Church, forcing its estimated 1.5 million members to become Orthodox. Bishops and priests were clandestinely ordained, however, and divine liturgies secretly celebrated. Like her sister church in the Ukraine, the Byzantine Catholic Church in Romania continued to exist despite persecution. Since the December revolution, the provisional government abrogated the 1948 decree which declared the Church illegal.

In January 1990, the heads of Romania’s 11 Catholic dioceses met for the first time in 40 years. In this “synod,” the bishops and apostolic administrators outlined a program aimed at re-establishing church institutions.

They called for:

  • The revision of church-state relations, which includes abolishing the state’s office of religious affairs, economic independence, readmitance of religious orders into the nation and Vatican-Romanian diplomatic relations;
  • The appointment of bishops to the five Eastern rite and five Latin rite dioceses currently run by secretly-appointed bishops or apostolic administrators;
  • The creation of an archdiocese in Alba Iulia, a city in the province of Transylvania with a large Catholic population;
  • The re-establishment of church schools, theological universities and religious education programs;
  • The establishment of an independent Catholic press with its own printing facilities and access to the media.

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