February 5, 2011

Romania to Start Building Balkans' Biggest Church

February 4, 2011
Balkan Insight

Romanian Orthodox Church plan to erect a 120-metre-high cathedral in Bucharest draws criticism for alleged extravagance.

Work on the Cathedral of the Redeemer is to start this year in the capital, Bucharest, at an estimated cost of around 400 million euro.

The future cathedral will be the tallest in southeast Europe. Currently, the tallest is St Peter and Paul, in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is 107.20 metres high.

The Orthodox Church plans to borrow half the money from banks and the loan is to be guaranteed by the Church's forests, churches and other properties. Money will be reimbursed also from collection plates and private donations.

But the Church has drawn criticism for also seeking help from the cash-strapped state. By law, the state has to provide support for church construction and dilapidation.

Last December, the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Daniel, asked the government to stump up 20 million lei [4.7 million euro] this year alone for building the cathedral.

Critics see the demand as inappropriate at a time of economic hardship. "This project is too much extravagant and a new cathedral is not a priority for Romania," journalist Laurentiu Mihu said.

“Instead, the Church should do something real for the redemption and development of society by putting these enormous sums into a huge nationwide social projects," he added.

More than 85 percent of Romania's 21.5 million population belong to the Orthodox church. Many politicians court Church initiatives as a way of attracting sympathy from the electorate.

But some criticize the Orthodox Church for having taken an ambivalent stance towards the former Communist regime, when many bishops adopted a servile attitude, lauding former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, supporting his policies and applauding his ideas about peace.

The construction of the future cathedral is scheduled for completion in 2013. Bucharest already hosts the second-largest building after the Washington Pentagon, the largest hotel and the largest shopping mall in Southeast Europe.