Pope Francis delivers the homily as he celebrates Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral in Bucharest, Romania, May 31. (Paul Haring/CNS)

BUCHAREST, Romania (CNS) — In his first Mass in Romania, Pope Francis recalled the witness of countless Catholics in the country who held on to hope and trusted God amid persecution.

Ending an intense first day in the country, the pope celebrated Mass May 31 at St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral in Bucharest commemorating the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Recalling their suffering, the pope said the tears of those persecuted Christians “were a prayer that rose to heaven and nurtured the hope of this people.”

“They did not put their hope in the world, but in the Lord, and thus they persevered. I would like to give thanks for these humble victors, these ‘saints-next-door,’ who showed us the way,” the pope said.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to celebrate Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral in Bucharest, Romania, May 31. (Paul Haring/CNS)

An estimated 1,200 people packed the late-19th century cathedral while thousands more followed the Mass on jumbo video screens outside.

In his homily, the pope reflected on St. Luke’s account of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary’s journey to Elizabeth, as well as her escape to Egypt from King Herod’s persecution with Jesus and Joseph, he said, mirrored the “quiet sacrifices, devotion and self-denial” of countless Romanian women, mothers and grandmothers.

“Theirs is a silent, tenacious and unsung sacrifice; they are unafraid to roll up their sleeves and shoulder difficulties for the sake of their children and families, hoping against hope,” the pope said.

Nourished by that hope, he continued, Mary continues her journey and invites all Christians “to journey together.”

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral in Bucharest, Romania, May 31. (Paul Haring/CNS)

The pope also noted that the encounter between Mary, a young woman, and Elizabeth, who was already “advanced in age,” was a miracle of “the culture of encounter where no one is discarded or pigeonholed, but all are sought out, because all are needed to reveal the Lord’s face.”

“The Spirit teaches us to look beyond appearances and enables us to speak well of others; to bless them. This is especially true with regard to our brothers and sisters who are homeless, exposed to the elements, lacking perhaps not only a roof over their head or a crust of bread, but the friendship and warmth of a community to embrace, shelter and accept them,” he said.

Pope Francis called on the faithful of Romania to recognize the same presence of God that Mary felt, which gave her joy. Without joy, he said, “we remain paralyzed, slaves to our unhappiness.”

“Here we find the secret of our joy,” the pope said. “Mary, lowly and humble, starts from God’s greatness and despite her problems — which were not few — she is filled with joy, for she entrusts herself to the Lord in all things. She reminds us that God can always work wonders if we open our hearts to Him and to our brothers and sisters.”

— By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service.