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Priest who died of hunger in Communist prison to be beatified

By on Friday, 30 August 2013

Mgr Vladimir Ghika helped restore France's ties with the Holy See (Photo: CNS)

Mgr Vladimir Ghika helped restore France's ties with the Holy See (Photo: CNS)

A priest who died of cold and hunger in a Communist prison will be beatified as a martyr in Romania.

Archbishop Ioan Robu of Bucharest, president of the Romanian bishops’ conference, said the sanctity of Mgr Vladimir Ghika had “given us an important new example of a life lived for Church and faith”.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, is scheduled to celebrate the beatification Mass in Bucharest’s Romexpo exhibition centre on Saturday.

Archbishop Robu said that Mgr Ghika would represent many other “unknown and unrecognised Christian martyrs” who died in Romania during four decades of Communist rule, which ended in December 1989.

“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,” the archbishop said.

Mgr Ghika was born on December 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 on April 15, 1902, but was persuaded by Pope Pius X, whom he knew personally, to remain a lay man in order to evangelise 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 Honor for helping restore France’s diplomatic ties with the Holy See. On October 7, 1923, he was ordained in Paris and was authorised to conduct liturgies in both the Latin and Eastern Catholic rites.

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 travelled widely in Europe, Asia and the Americas as a representative of Pope Pius XI.

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

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

May 16 will be celebrated as his feast day.

“Although these terrible events happened long ago, I think a story like this still speaks to us today,” Archbishop Robu said.

“Martyrdom isn’t just a phenomenon of Christianity’s first centuries – people gave their lives for the faith in recent memory and are still doing so in large numbers now.”

The archbishop said it had taken much effort to document Mgr Ghika’s case because of the systematic destruction of evidence and erasing of records under Communism.

“Fortunately, the Church has a long memory, although there’ll always be many other martyrs whose stories won’t be recorded,” he said.

  • NatOns

    This is the true face of Catholic Action and Catholic Faith, loving, obedient, self-sacrificial, poor amidst the poor to free the impoverished, rich beside the rich to show the vanity in the love of riches; a saint, in fact.

    Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest of our souls, look with favour upon the Romanian people, from the bosom of which Thou didst choose Vladimir Ghika. Grant that his example of faith and love may shine more and more among us, and grant to us the merits of his martyrdom in the grace and holiness for which we pray … that he may be raised to the altars of Thy Church, for Thy glory, Who livest and reignest worlds without end. Amen.

    O Blessed Vladimir take us all to thy heart, present us in all our dire needs to the Sacred Heart of our Saviour, and, in thine own heart’s prayer, link us ever more firmly to the intimacy of the Blessed Virgin with her divine Son at our communion under His Holy Sacrament.

  • Newmanooth

    Splendid – God bless this martyr at the hands of International Socialism, I am sure that he now stands in the divine light. Such men – and, in China even today, we have hunted and hidden priests – are the St. Edmund Campions and St. Edward Arrowsmiths of our time.

  • dana

    Vladimir Ghica was also a Romanian prince. His family – Ghica,rulled moldavia and valachia (historical regions of Romania), for three centuries.

  • johnhenry

    Well, he sure looks like my idea of what a prince should look like. What would we ever do without paragons such as him?

  • Henley Fitt

    Talkbackers here are mary-worshippers: not the actual Maryam of the New Testament but of a figment of their own imaginations. Nothing to do with God, Yeshua or the Bible, just man-made religion, won’t do you any good darlings.

  • Benedict Carter


    On the appointed day, Father and I met at her home. A small Soviet flat. Simply furnished (but scrupulously clean) with the usual Soviet furniture; a few photographs and many books. There were few people there in all, about four or five. Propped up on two old wooden chairs was the coffin, which was open: Margarite was visible and her colour was already that of dark wood. Father and I sang the “Salve Regina” and he said a few impromptu prayers. The hearse (a rickety old minibus) arrived and the workers asked us to leave: to get the coffin out of the flat and down the stairs, they had to take Margarite’s body out of it and put it back in once they have manoeuvred the coffin into the narrow stairwell. They didn’t want us to see them do it.

    We boarded the bus and were stuck in traffic for an hour and a half before we reached the cemetery. Once we found the plot, we had to break and pull out some of the overgrown weeds and grasses which obstructed any view of the grave that had been dug. Father blessed the grave with Holy Water and I lit the incense in the thurible. We sang some hymns, Father said a short version of the burial service, and that is that. I felt very tearful.

    And so was laid to rest Margarite, a soul who suffered in Stalin’s Camps for her Catholic Faith, which she kept until the day she died.

    The fall of the satanic cult of Communism was a happy day for her. Even more, the restoration of the Church in Russia was a day of great joy. She made herself known to the first Catholic Archbishop and was asked to help translate the Novus Ordo into Russian, which she did. She attended Mass every Sunday, whenever her ailments allowed. She and Father Ryan came to know each other and were very fond of each other. It was a very great honour for me to help lay this martyr for the Faith to rest, a great honour. Someone who put a human face on all those books I had read about the GuLAG by Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, Marchenko and others. Someone who had known suffering, true suffering, but who lived her life loving and trusting Our Lord.

    May God forgive her her sins, take her into His arms and grant her eternal rest and
    peace! Of your charity, please pray for the soul of a true Catholic, a Russian lady called Margarite.

  • Benedict Carter

    I know I’ve posted this story before but here is my little story about a Catholic victim of the demonic regime of atheistic Communism:


    It is the Winter of 1941. The German armies threaten Moscow. The cold is the worst for many years, below 40 degrees. In the centre of Moscow, just a stone’s throw from the Kremlin and its surrounding streets is a prison, also the headquarters (it remains so to this day) of one of the most evil organisations in the world’s history. The prison is the Lubyanka, and the organisation is the NKVD.

    In one of its underground cells is a girl, a student. Her name is Margarite. Not the usual Russian “Margarita” but “Margarite”. She is the daughter of a Russian man and a Polish woman. She has been arrested for becoming a Catholic.

    A clever student, Margarite had started that fateful academic year at MGU (Moscow State University) in the Faculty of Foreign Languages. One day, she was walking past the Catholic Church of St. Louis (given to the Catholic diplomats to the Russian Court by Tsarina Catherine II in 1799 for their worship. As it happens, the church lies just 200 or 300 metres from the Lubyanka). It is the only Catholic Church allowed in Russia by the Soviets.

    On an impulse truly from God, this girl, brought up all her life as an atheist, walks into the Church and tells the one priest allowed by the Communists that she wishes to become a Catholic. Greatly suspicious of a provocation against the Church, he says “no”, but she comes back and eventually he is persuaded of her genuineness and baptises her.

    That night, she told her best friend in the University dormitory that she has been
    baptised and the next morning she was arrested. Her best friend betrayed her to the NKVD.

    She received a sentence of eight years in the Camps.

    It is now 2008, the Summer. I took a call from Father Ryan asking me to assist him at the burial of old Margarite. I knew a little of her story, but none of the details. I had met her at Father Ryan’s English Mass in the crypt of the Catholic Cathedral in Moscow several times (a decrepit and nearly blind old lady, always with her devoted friend Svetlana). On one occasion she had looked me in the eyes and held my gaze, seeming to deeply search my soul. I felt that I had been tested in some way and that I’d failed. Her eyes were deep pools of memory and suffering.

  • Benedict Carter

    Amen to that NatOns. What a beautiful photo.

  • Mike Koopman

    Mgr. Ghika, Pray for Us!