catedrala-mantuirii(Photo source: Doar Ortodox) It's no good. I cannot come to terms with the Catedrala Mantuirii Neamului (National Cathedral of Salvation). I have talked to many friends and acquaintances (most of whom are anti- ), tried really hard to see from the point of view of those in favour, but I simply cannot.

Reported to cost around 600 million euros (but one can be sure this is vastly underestimated), though reports range from 200-800 mllion depending on what you read, it is said to create 4,000 jobs. The one and only positive point.

A study carried out by the ASUR, reported by the newspaper Nine O'Clock HERE in an excellent editorial entitled "Socialist Church and Capitalist Austerity"  concluded that there are a total of 18,300 churches in Romania compared to a derisory 4,700 primary schools. There are only 250 hospitals left (yes, you read that correctly - 250) after so-called "reforms" were made to be cost-effective rather than efficient. Stories in the press reveal the horrors of people dying on hospital steps and in car parks because hospital doors are firmly closed and ambulances don't turn up. Villagers must schlepp miles to a city hospital, many dying on the way... appalling doesn't quite cover it.

casa nebunului(Photo source: Vox Publica) I've been told that it is a symbol of national identity, necessary for moral and spiritual strength. A symbol of national pride and identity? It is no more so than the Casa Nebunului. A cross stuck on its roof would perhaps solve the issue and be a lot cheaper, too. As for those who say it has positive public utility, this is doubtful, to say the least. In the French Ambassador to Romania's newsletter of August 2011, he writes: "the project is receiving more and more criticism and the Patriarchy's defense is less and less convincing." Other people say, "it's a symbol of how religious we are." Rubbish. A symbol of how religious one is is surely reflected in how one lives every-day life, how one relates and reacts to those around you. Corruption, turning a blind eye to the needy and blatant arrogance will not change by walking around this huge cathedral. Another 'pro-' reason: "it shows the EU that we are respectable and as good as any other member state." Excuse me?! Respectable? That is such a wheeze. It doesn't take a cathedral to be respectable as well everyone knows. But giving kids decent education, the elderly pensions that actually allow them to eat properly and a decent health service for all IS respectable. And NORMAL.

Catedrala_Mantuirii_Neamului 2(Photo source: Henrich.ro) It is reported that the cathedral will be the tallest building in Bucharest, with a height of 120m and a width of 70m, dwarfing the Casa Poporului. Please see this VIDEO on the Matache Ultima Ora site - it has been removed from Youtube, incidentally. Take a look also at THIS VIDEO from Deutsche Welle. Who cares about the size? Does one need to have a massive space in which to be at one with God? This is NOT what Christianity teaches. Whatever happened to simplicity and humility? What is this 'fudulie' always having to strive for the biggest, the best, the most expensive and the first in the queue?? Arrogant and bombastic architecture (and it is truly a monstrosity judging from the many photos one can see of it just by goagaling) does NOT reflect the true religious sentiment of the Romanian people, though it DOES reflect the arrogance of the church and the government in general. Orthodox churches are normally small with beautiful, simple icons. One does not spend ages in an orthodox church except perhaps, at festivals or special feast-days. People come and go to pray at a favourite icon, spend a moment in peace and tranquility or light a candle for those loved and lost. It is not supposed to be a museum to feed megalomania and stroke arrogance dans le bon sens.

Over the last 20 years, around 4,000 churches have sprung up all over Romania (many of them still unfinished due to lack of funding). This corresponds to ONE church built EVERY TWO DAYS, most of them financed by public money along with donations from church-goers. Why should public money pay for this? Why should people who are against this, who are even agnostic or atheists, end up having to fork out via their taxes when things are tough enough as it is? Who asked them? No one. So much for democracy.

Monasteries such as Vacaresti stand longing for renovation. Do they get it? No. Instead, 600 million euros is thrown into this frankly absurd project that is neither necessary, nor required - at least, NOT RIGHT NOW!

The overwhelming expense of this eye-sore in the Casa Nebunului's back garden is nothing short of an insult in the midst of a serious economic recession where hundreds (though I have read thousands) of Romanians are hungry, cold, denied health care and cannot pay for medical treatment or medication. It is simply outrageous. While the government continues to close down schools and hospitals due to lack of funds, construction work is progressing at lightening speed - we are told it will be finished in three years.

Remus Cernea of the Green Party told Deutsche Welle, "We are witnessing a huge waste of tax payers’ money. The Romanian Orthodox Church gets twice as much money than culture and research. This will seriously affect the state’s budget." And when the state budget is affected, what happens to the people. A cathedral may be seen as feeding the spiritual needs but it doesn't put food in tummies, doesn't buy medication and doesn't keep schools open for the next generation. The message is that it's better to have a religious nation than an educated, intelligent and healthy one. 

In a country where, even now in 2011, there are villages without electricity and sanatation, homeless children and dire conditions in orphanages, next to nothing for the mentally and physically handicapped, a necrotic health system, lamentable pensions and a seriously deteriorated education system, that 600 million euros (at least) could have been put to better use - a use that would have shown compassion, sense and caring for a nation - a people who deserve far, far better. I find it truly repugnant.