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  • Ilinca Stroe

Vladimir Ghika, the World-scale Romanian Carer

Monsignor Vladimir Ghika

Tellingly, he was born on Christmas Day, 1873: a gift of unspoilt goodness to a world in trouble. A prince by birth, he could have become a powerful member of the ruling elite, since he was the grandson of Moldavia’s Prince Grigore Ghica, and his mother – a descendant of Henri IV of France. A gifted draftsman, as well as a talented writer, piano and organ player [1], he could have become a successful artist, but his drawings only made it to the National Art Museum as late as 2018, more than 60 years after his death. A man of extraordinary knowledge, with undergraduate studies in medicine, botany, arts, history and law, a degree from the Faculty of Political Science in Paris and a PhD in theology from the Angelicum College in Rome, he could have also become a commendable scholar or academic.

Instead, Vladimir Ghika - prince, priest and martyr - followed charity ideals: he chose the vocational path of good-doing and was practical enough to actually make a difference for the sick, the poor, the needy and the disadvantaged in half of the world, from Paris to Sydney. He did missionary work in the Congo, Japan, Australia, Argentina [2] with such tireless commitment that he was dubbed humorously “the apostolic vagabond” by Pope Pius XI. [3] He visited the sick in Japanese hospitals. [4] He comforted the victims of the Avezzano earthquake, looked after the tuberculosis patients of a hospice in Rome and nursed the World War I wounded in Italy. [5] Always a patriot at heart, in Romania he provided health care to cholera patients during the Balkan War (1913), did charity work for the sick and poor during World War II, and founded the first free-of-charge surgery, “Bethleem Mariae”, and the first ambulance service in Bucharest. [6] For his services during the Balkan War he was awarded a Military Medal by King Carol I of Romania.

But 1948 in Monsignor Ghika’s country brought about a brutal change of regime. Aristocrats became “the enemy of the people”. Besides, the Orthodox-baptised prince had formally converted to Catholicism in 1902, he had been ordained a Catholic priest in 1923, and Catholics were also much hated by the new communist leadership, for their adherence to Western values and their connection to the Vatican. The Monsignor had the opportunity to leave the country with the last train to freedom, in January 1948, the so-called “royal train” – and he refused. He felt he was needed here, in the dark times to come. He continued doing charity work as part of Catholic missions to Bucharest, but the inevitable happened: on 18 November 1952 he was arrested and then subjected to interrogation, sleep deprivation, humiliation, torture, and trialed on charge of “complicity to the crime of high treason” (allegedly espionage for the Vatican). He was sentenced to three years of hard prison time. [7]

Vladimir Ghika died on 16 May 1954 in his prison cell. The forensic analysis of his bones, conducted after the fiercely oppressive decades of communist terror, showed that the beatings he was made to suffer as a man in his eighties were the cause of his death. [8] Later, reports were also published about the kind of torture he had been subjected to: more than 80 times he had been brought close to death by hanging, using an electrical mechanism with a metal ring set around his neck. [9] Monsignor Ghika was one in thousands of political prisoners treated that way in communist jails in 1950s Romania.

History, however, has its own brilliant way of setting straight errors and injustices. On 31 August 2013, Vladimir Ghika was beatified by Pope Francis’s envoy to Bucharest, His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Amato, in a ceremony attended by 10,000 people. In his address, the Cardinal commended three key attributes about Prince Ghika: his dream of the unity of the Christians, his charitable acts for the benefit of the needy, and his suffering and death at the hands of an anti-Christian regime. [10] In the end, the beatification was an affirmation of the “hope that hardship, persecution and problems faced in the name of faith do not pass unnoticed.” [11] Without doubt, Monsignor Ghika’s story stands proof that the ideal of good-doing, even when tramped on and crushed, is quite undefeatable.

Notes & Sources

[6] Ibidem.

[10] Ibidem.

Picture credits

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