On How to Build a Church in Communist Romania
In 1987 the Italian journalist Francesco Strazzari journeyed throughout Eastern Europe investigating the life of the Christian church in its encounters with the communist state. In Romania, Strazzari managed briefly to interview Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist and Bishop Nicoale Mihăiţă, the Church's specialist in ecumenism and chief liaison between the Church and the state's Ministry for Religious Denominations. Strazzari raised questions about religious life in Romania, particularly the demolition of church buildings in Bucharest in the process of urban redevelopment.1 The answer he received was designed for an international audience increasingly concerned about the status of religious life in Romania. According to Bishop Mihăiţă, “Urbanization always implied sacrifices. This happened even in Paris when they made the large boulevards. This has happened in Bucharest in the interwar period when a first attempt to modernize the city was made.”2
Church demolitions, destruction of villages, random and forced urbanization and industrialization—this is what the international audience knew about Romania in the 1980s. The West saw the communist government's behavior toward religious groups as particularly repressive, taking into account the dissolution of the Greek Catholic Church, maltreatment3 of Neo-Protestant groups,4 and constraints and control over the Orthodox and traditional Protestant churches. These were the characteristics of religious life in Romania: imprisonments of priests and believers, the destruction of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox monastic life, and control over the religious schooling and the appointment of hierarchs and clergy. But this somber image of the relationship between the state and religious denominations in Romania was misleading, for the relationship was multi-faceted and changed with time.