BUCHAREST - Tens of thousands of worshippers attended the inauguration Sunday of a massive new Orthodox cathedral in Bucharest, amid criticism that public funding for the project could be better used to pay for hospitals and schools in one of the EU’s poorest members.
Construction of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral in Bucharest began in 2010 and is scheduled to be completed in 2024.
But the consecration Mass on Sunday — celebrated by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Romanian Patriarch Daniel — was attended by worshippers from all over the country, with local reports describing huge crowds congregating in front of the building site to follow the ceremony on screens outside.
“It’s a very special event. And I definitely wanted to be here because the cathedral symbolizes the centenary of Romania,” founded on Dec. 1, 2018, Ion Duta, a pensioner from Bucharest, said.
“The costs are certainly high, but at least the church has shown that it can build such a project. Our elected politicians are incapable of constructing expressways,” said another bystander, who only gave her first name, Georgiana.
Covering an area of 14,000 sq. meters (150,000 sq. feet), the cathedral will be Romania’s second tallest building with its main bell tower measuring 120 meters (390 feet) high.
Situated in the center of the capital behind the pharaonic Palace of Parliament of former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, it will be able to hold as many as 5,000 worshippers.
Originally, the cost was estimated at around €80 million ($91 million). But it has already spiraled to €110 million and tens of millions more are expected to be spent before it is completed.
With around 75 percent of the amount already paid for by public funds, the cost has created controversy in a country where investment in dilapidated infrastructure is badly needed.
Around 88 percent of the population of a total 20 million are Orthodox.
The patriarchate argues that Romania “needs a representative national cathedral, which symbolizes faith, freedom and dignity of the people.”
Despite criticism about the costs, successive governments over the past decade have nevertheless put up the money in the hope of winning the support of the powerful Orthodox church in return.