'Apostolic vagabond' suffered torture to resist communism

Blessed Vladimir Ghika died from cold and hunger in a communist prison 59 years ago.

CNS PHOTO | COURTESY ARCHDIOCESE OF BUCHAREST

Blessed Vladimir Ghika died from cold and hunger in a communist prison 59 years ago.

September 16, 2013
VICTOR GAETAN
and JONATHAN LUXMOORE
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Msgr. Vladimir Ghika, who was tortured mercilessly by Romania's communists and who died of cold and hunger in prison, was beatified as a martyr Aug. 31.

"He was treated worse than a dog in jail, this beautiful elderly priest," said Hermina Idomir, an 80-year-old Romanian Catholic professor from Brasov.

"Everyone knew of his goodness - he started the first free clinic in Bucharest, the first ambulance service. He was a prince but preferred the poor. And the communists arrested him for writing a letter to the pope," said Idomir, shaking her head.

Blessed Ghika was born Dec. 25, 1873, in Istanbul, where his father was Romania's representative at the Ottoman court. He was one of six children in an Orthodox family. He studied in Paris and in Toulouse, France, his mother's home country, and received a theology doctorate in 1898 at Rome's Dominican College.

He was received into the Catholic Church in 1902, but was persuaded by Pope Pius X, whom he knew personally, to remain a layman in order to evangelize more effectively among non-Catholics.

After aiding the sick in Thessaloniki, Greece, he moved to Bucharest, where he founded Romania's first free clinic, as well as a hospital and sanatorium, before returning to France to care for the displaced and wounded during the First World War.

In 1921, he was awarded the Legion of Honour for helping restore France's diplomatic ties with the Holy See. On Oct. 7, 1923, he was ordained in Paris and was authorized to conduct liturgies in both the Latin and Eastern Catholic rites.

PROMINENT FRIENDS

He befriended prominent Catholics such as writers Jacques Maritain and Paul Claudel while ministering in the rough quarter of Villejuif. In the 1930s, he also traveled widely in Europe, Asia and the Americas as a representative of Pope Pius XI.

Ghika returned to Romania at the outbreak of the Second World War to organize help for refugees and bombardment victims.

Having rejected advice to leave the country after the communists seized power, he was arrested Nov. 18, 1952, for refusing to break ties with the Vatican. He survived more than 80 violent interrogations before being sentenced to three years' incarceration at Romania's infamous Jilava prison, where he died, emaciated, May 16, 1954.

More than 10,000 people attended Ghika's beatification ceremony that was broadcast live on Romanian TV.

PASTORAL LOVE

In the homily, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, described three aspects of the martyr's exceptional "pastoral love":

MOCK FIRING SQUADS

Thirty direct witnesses testified to Ghika's holiness in the face of torture. The priest was beaten so badly that he lost his sight and hearing, and his captors set up mock firing squads to break his will.

"He found the presence of God everywhere, in all things," said Archbishop Ioan Robu of Bucharest, president of the Romanian bishops' conference. "Nothing crushed him."

Robu told Catholic News Service that Ghika represents many other "unknown and unrecognized Christian martyrs" who died in Romania during four decades of communist rule, which ended in December 1989.

NEVER FORGET

"This latest beatification proves the Church doesn't forget those who generously gave their lives in this way, whose testimonies can still be understood and valued by contemporary society," he said.

It took much effort to document Ghika's case because of the systematic destruction of evidence and erasing of records under communism, he said.

"Fortunately, the Church has a long memory, although there'll always be many other martyrs whose stories won't be recorded," Robu said.

"I don't think I will see an event this beautiful again in my life," said Orthodox participant Radu Ciuceanu, incarcerated by the communists for 17 years.

May 16 will be Blessed Vladimir's feast day.