Separation from communism could not be done either by burning the red card or by publishing, even assumed at the highest level, his condemnation, or by commemorating the victims. This is actually an “amicable divorce”, which we are still going through. Divorce means, however, a separation. The simplest way to assume it would be for each of us to go and see what communism could make of people. The best place for such a visit is Fortul 13 de Jilava, even if such a visit can only be made with approval, and here is the cell where the servant of God Prince Vladimir Ghica served until his last breath: he is the first recognized holy martyr and assumed to have been killed by the communist regime in Romania.
The “white monk”, the Catholic with the papal right to celebrate also in the Byzantine rite
Prince Vladimir Ghika saw the light of day not far from the walls of the Blacherne Palace, in Constantinople, near a small monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, on December 25, 1873. So the day of the Nativity of the Lord in 1873 brought us, in the days ours and on our lands, precisely from Constantinople, a holy prince. As a prince and a child, we can imagine that, like the others, Vladimir, without doubt, could pick fresh figs and make friends or argue in Greek and Turkish, on the streets of Fanar, with a lyota playmates, although he was different from the street children he would have known then. But he remained, since then, with great love and understanding towards the poor. Vladimir’s mother was Alexandrina Moret de Blaremberg (descendant of Henry IV, King of France), fervent prayerful in the Orthodox rite, and she left nothing to chance. Teaching him the order of faith, I have no doubts here, he perhaps spoke to him about the meaning of King Henry’s words, those that made him beloved: “As long as I am king of France, any Frenchman will be able to put, at least on Sunday , a chicken in a pot”.
Prince Vladimir’s father, Ioan Grigore Ghica, princely bone, former Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, sent into an assumed exile at the Ottoman Gate, had read Lord Byron and considered his heroic death as a death of the Revolution, in which he had believed and which prevented the future of the little “soldiers” of his family. As a child, Vladimir had more than just play. Soon he left, no doubt with sadness, to Paris, as he should, to higher schools. He left behind the streets of the Lighthouse, with the gaiety of the children and the games among the wild fig trees, as well as Ella, Alexandru and Gheorghe, his sister and brothers, who remained shaking their handkerchiefs behind him, there, on the shore of the Bosphorus, handkerchiefs that would soon be reddened from the disease of the 19th century and poverty, tuberculosis, which would end his youth. Later, this death of his sister and brothers made Prince Vladimir Ghika not to be afraid of this disease and suffering.
Prince Vladimir’s departure from Constantinople saved him. Of all those born in the Ghica family, he and his younger brother, Dimitrie, survived. In France, where he arrived, he was placed in the care of a Protestant family. He fulfilled with all due rigor, the orders of that faith. However, in the heat of the end of the century, he enrolled at the Faculty of Political Sciences, which he graduated at the age of 22, in 1895. Enlightened with politics, in parallel, he attended courses in medicine, botany and arts . Being sick of the heart, Paris was not a favorable environment for him, so he came to Romania, but in 1898 he left again, this time to Rome, where he attended the Dominican courses at the Angelicum Faculty. In 1902, after so many “formative” experiences, he made the decision, considered by some a mystery, by others a revelation, to switch to the Catholic rite, something with which his mother, as I said, a faithful practitioner of Orthodoxy, although descended of King Henry IV, he was not reconciled until his death.
At that time, Vladimir Ghika wanted to become a priest or monk, but Pope Pius XI, who knew and protected him, advised him to do lay apostolate. Which he did, soon deserving the nickname given by the pope, “the great apostolic vagabond”. Indeed, he walked and will walk in the following years from the heart of Africa to Japan, from Europe to South America or Australia, getting to be recognized as a lay apostle. A white monk. In the country, through his strength, will and collected funds, he established the first free dispensary, “Bethleem Mariae” in Bucharest, the St. Vincent hospital and sanatorium, as well as the first free ambulance. He took care of the cholera patients from the first Balkan war, the tuberculosis patients or the patients hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals. So that on October 7, 1923, his old wish came true: he was ordained a priest in Paris by Cardinal Dubois, and the Holy See granted him the right to celebrate in the Byzantine rite shortly after his ordination .
On August 3, 1939, he returned to Romania, where he stayed to be with the poor and sick, refusing to leave the country, after it was overthrown by the Soviet-communist power. Undoubtedly, for a while the authorities were afraid not so much of his notoriety, but of the reaction of those who might have opposed the arrest of a man considered a saint since then. But, after seven years, the Iron Curtain fell on him as well. He was arrested on November 18, 1952, under the charge of “high treason”, he was imprisoned and tortured for a long time in Jilava.
Golgotha of the prince, at Jilava
Nowadays, Jilava looks like a peaceful place, although strange and sad. Above Fort 13, built according to the tactics and engineering of the early 19th century, to shelter troops, ammunition and food in a vast defense network in the southern area of Bucharest, grass grows. In the underground, there are still several forts in good condition, which serve as warehouses – and where they gather from radioactive residues from the former “Magurele experiment”, to archives and God knows what else. Fort 13, the former political prison from Jilava, was for a long time, during all the years of the Iliescu regime, practically flooded and impossible to visit. In 2016, the water was released through spillways, previously blocked “in the interest of national security”. That is, not to see what was there.
Among many other horrors, at Fort 13 there is also the cell where a saint died. From the turrets at the entrance to Fort 13, which strangely resemble the turrets of the two gypsy castles guarding the entrance to Bucharest from Jilava, the pressure is felt. It’s not a special smell or anything special; but if it were said that the potatoes from the experimental farm in Fundulea or the cobs from the CAP in the village were stored there, for example, no one would believe it, even though things were exactly the same. There the walls breathe very well, and the bricks are perfectly dry; with all the years they lay in water, not one is macerated. Just as the memory of those who were walled up inside by the living, to die or come out from under the earth as ghosts, has not dissipated.
At Jilava we saw the place of martyrdom of Prince Ghica. His last days were recalled by a former political prisoner, cellmate: “On a night with strong wind, we have a thorough search. We are stripped to the skin and taken out into a dark corridor, through which the wind was making its way. We stood naked in this corridor for two hours, during which time a Security officer found the thorns from the Saviour’s crown of thorns in the Monsignor’s pocket and confiscated it. Finally, we got dressed and helped Monsignor to get dressed as well. But he was trembling. And when he got under the blanket he was still shaking. The mat beneath him was too thin. The whole night he shook without interruption. The next day, Eisenbeisser, our cellmate, alarms us: The Monsignor is dying, he shouts. And we all jumped to our feet, while Eisenbeisser was desperately knocking on the door, asking for Monsignor’s admission to the infirmary. And God wanted us to find a good understanding with the duty officer. I gently placed Monsignor on a blanket. He was almost in a coma. That’s how I evacuated him to the infirmary”. Where, shortly after, Vladimir Ghica died.
It was on May 16, 1954, on the day of the commemoration of Saint Theodore, a martyr about whom in the Orthodox Synaxar, well known to Prince Ghika, it is said that “this blessed man, busying himself with the Law of God and still pure, made himself a chosen vessel and sanctified, he chose the true appointment”. What, after the times, exactly happened with Prince Vladimir Ghika, together with his beatification, on March 27, 2013, by Pope Francis.
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