Blason   Abadia de São José de ​​Clairval

F-21150 Flavigny-sur-Ozerain


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3 Novembro 2001
Saint Martin de Porres

Caro amigo da Abadia de São José

The art of drawing good from evil belongs to God alone, as is shown by the following story. One evening in 1924, in Auberive, in eastern France, the face of a young nun, Sister Marie-Louise Durand, was burned by the explosion of a metal hot-water bottle filled with boiling water, which had been placed too quickly onto a cold marble surface. The flesh on her chin, lips and eyelids was torn away. The doctor responding to the emergency call gave her an injection of sedatives and wrapped her entire face in bandages. «It's very serious,» he said. «Call me if the night is very bad.» —«Will these burns leave marks?» —«How couldn't they?» replied the doctor. The Superior of the House, Father Ghika, prayed for a little while at the foot of the sick woman's bed, then raised his hand in blessing and left. The next day, the doctor was astonished to discover that the tissue had firmed up, that the patient's eyes were open, and that the eyelids had become less swollen. Three days later, the Sister was completely cured. Thirty years after the accident, her sister Suzanne said, «For me there was no doubt that it was a miracle.» Up until her death in 1974, Sister Marie Louise's cheeks remained as pink and smooth as a baby's.

Who is the priest whose faith obtained this supernatural healing from God?

«To be more Orthodox»

The fifth child of Prince Jan Ghika and Alexandrine Moret of Blaremberg, Vladimir Ghika was born in Constantinople on December 25, 1873. He received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation in the Orthodox Church, of which his parents were members. Since 1657, ten Ghika princes had reigned in Moldavia or in Wallachia, of whom the last was Vladimir's grandfather, Gregory V.

In 1878, the young State of Romania, created sixteen years earlier by the joining of Moldavia and Wallachia, succeeded in freeing itself from the yoke of the Ottomans, and became a kingdom. Jan Ghika was named ambassador to Paris, where he died in 1881. Princess Alexandrine then had her sons Vladimir and Demeter enrolled in school in Toulouse. As there was no Orthodox parish in this city, she entrusted them to a governess who took them to the Protestant church every Sunday. Disgusted by the coldness of reformed worship, Vladimir discovered, through his friends at school, the Catholic religion. He ardently desired to make his First Communion with them, but his mother was indignant: «Think of your ancestors! You, the descendant of Greek Orthodox princes, you want to become a traitor?» Much later, he would confide, «I waited sixteen years before deciding. The more I waited, the more my soul caught fire. Even at night, this call was within me!»

After concluding brilliant studies in Paris, Vladimir was stricken in 1895 with angina pectoris, and he had to give up on a career as a diplomat. In 1898, he joined his brother Demeter, named the Romanian ambassador to Italy. He would call the six years spent in Rome «a time when the Catholic faith took hold of my mind and heart.» He understood that Christian unity is not possible unless it is under the authority of the Pope, the Successor of Saint Peter. «No,» he thought, «I am not a renegade. I believe in this Catholic Church that my ancestors left without thinking of a split, without thinking of the treasure they were losing.» On April 13, 1902, he was officially received into the Catholic Church by Cardinal Mathieu, the Archbishop of Toulouse, who was passing through Rome. However, the Romanian newspapers condemned this step, accusing Prince Ghika of treason, «which,» he confessed, «distressed me greatly.» Later, to an Orthodox monk who asked him why he became Catholic, he simply answered, «To be more Orthodox!»

Wishing to give himself totally to God, Vladimir Ghika considered the priesthood, but he ran into opposition from his mother, who intervened in high places. Pope Saint Pius X himself advised the young man at that time to put off his decision out of regard for the princess—he could work as a lay man for the glory of God. Vladimir earned a doctorate in theology at the Dominican Minerva Institute in Rome, and pursued studies in Romanian political and religious history

The neighbor's liturgy

In Salonicka in 1904, Vladimir met Sister Pucci, an outstanding Sister of Saint Vincent de Paul of Italian birth. She brought him into her apostolate among the sick and dying. Soon, out of his personal wealth, he founded a dispensary in Bucharest run by the Daughters of Charity, of whom Sister Pucci would be the first superior. A group of about a hundred «Ladies of Charity,» members of Romania's high society, participated in this work animated by a missionary spirit. Doctor Paulesco, an extremely competent young doctor and a fervent Catholic, offered his services for free, while the prince fulfilled the duties of catechist to the sick. More than 200 consultations were given each year, not including house calls. Before going to see a sick or poor person, Ghika said this prayer: «Lord, I am going to find one of those whom You called Your other self. Make this moment spent with him while trying to help him, bring, both for him and for me, the fruits of eternal life.»

In 1913, Prince Ghika, with Sister Pucci, organized Saint Vincent Hospital, a lazaretto for cholera victims. On this occasion, he went out to meet the sick, in the neighboring regions of the Danube, accompanied by religious sisters, and made himself everything to everyone, at the constant risk of contracting the disease. In order to make possible a graft for an accident victim with a burned face and body, he went so far as to give his own skin: «He who casts off his skin for his neighbor will be clothed again with Christ; nothing makes God as close as our fellow man,» he loved to say. For Vladimir Ghika, taking care of the poor was not reduced to a simple philanthropy. When it is done for the love of God, it is a veritable act of religion which he called the «liturgy of the neighbor.»— «In the great human family, such as Christ wants it, all of the sufferings of individuals (be they material, moral, or spiritual) can be, thanks to God, wiped out, eased or at least reduced by the generosity of others.»

Priest for the diocese of Paris

After the First World War, Vladimir settled in Paris, where his brother had been named Romanian ambassador. Princess Alexandrine, his mother, had died in 1914. The question of the priesthood was raised again for the prince. Ghika hesitated—could he not do more good by giving an example of the Christian layman? A woman of prayer, Violette Sussmann, shed light on the matter with these words: «Just one Mass celebrated by you will do infinitely more for souls than all the good that you would be able to do by your actions while remaining in the world.» Jean Daujat, one of his disciples, remarked, «The only thing that made Prince Ghika decide to become a priest was his faith in the infinite efficacy of the Mass, the sacrament of our redemption, for the conversion and sanctification of souls, faith in the superiority of the Mass over all other forms of action.» The inestimable value of the Holy Mass would be recalled by the Second Vatican Council: «As often as the Sacrifice of the Cross by which Christ our Pasch is sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7) is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out... It is in the Eucharistic cult or in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful that [priests] exercise in a supreme degree their sacred functions; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming His mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering Himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father» (Constitution Lumen gentium, nos. 3 and 28). The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds, regarding priests: «From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength» (CCC, no. 1566).

Ordained a priest by the Archbishop of Paris on October 7, 1923, Vladimir Ghika received the privilege of celebrating according to the two rites, Latin and Byzantine. On the back of the holy cards from his ordination was printed a prayer for the union of Orthodoxy with the Church of Rome, and for the conversion of Russia. Father Ghika did not go anywhere unnoticed—very thin, with a thoughtful expression, his long hair and long white beard flowing freely, he looked like an old man by the time he was 50. He was «a saint from a stained-glass window, a living icon,» said those who approached him. His Mass deeply moved those in attendance, for he seemed to relive in it the sufferings of Jesus Christ on the cross. Appointed the director of the Foreigners' Chapel, on Rue de Sèvres in Paris, he was consumed with a boundless zeal. For him, «every need we meet upon our way is a visit from God.» His plan? «To go seek out those who haven't dared to expect it. To give to him who asks not of you, to love him who pushes you away.» In confession, he was the instrument of numerous conversions, including those of Satan worshippers and occultists. His ministry left him overwhelmed by the ugliness of sin, but amazed at the power of Christ's merciful grace.

From the Auberive dungeon to the Villejuif shack

Father Ghika hoped to establish a religious Society. Pope Pius XI authorized the foundation in 1924. It settled in a former Cistercian abbey in Auberive, in the diocese of Langres. The buildings, recently occupied by a penal colony, were in ruins. The founder gave the first three postulants the best spots and kept an old dungeon for himself.

However, the experiment at Auberive failed, for the living conditions there were too difficult. What's more, the founder, whose health made stays in a sanatorium necessary, was not able to breathe a lasting impulse into the community. It dissolved in 1931, and its members went on to bring to fruition in other religious institutes the graces received in Auberive. Saddened by this setback, Father Ghika nevertheless did not lose courage. He wrote, «It is by no means how much you have done that matters, but the manner in which you have done it; it's not what happens, but the manner in which you receive it.»

In the meantime, he had devoted himself to a new project: living as a missionary in the most deprived Parisian suburb, where the «absence of God» was the most tragic. In 1927, he had found a piece of land in Villejuif, in a shantytown populated by ragpickers. The nearest church was two kilometers away. He built an unheated wooden shack there, nine meters by three, which served as his chapel. His move was all settled, but Father Ghika confided to one of his fellow workers: «I feel terribly down.» Not without suffering insults and mistreatment, he little by little gained the confidence of the population, beginning with the children, not hiding his identity or his apostolic goal in any way: «We bring the Good News. There must not be the least doubt as to this.»

Near the shack lived a fiercely anticlerical anarchist, who was seriously ill at that time. His wife was a chair upholsterer. Looking for a pretext so as to approach her, Father Ghika found among one of his friends a chair to be upholstered, and he introduced himself to his neighbors. Seeing him, the anarchist erupted in a torrent of insults against «the priests.» Father Ghika listened to him tranquilly and, when his insulter had finished, placed his hand in a friendly gesture on the anarchist's shoulder. «Don't touch me,» shrieked the anarchist. «If someone saw us, they might think...»—«That what?»—«That we're friends!»—«Better than that—we are brothers,» and the priest left, leaving his listener flabbergasted. He returned several times to inquire about his chair... and to chat with his anarchist, whom he softened little by little, and whom a Sister of the Assumption discreetly came to look after. Some time later, the sick man called for Father Ghika and asked him to administer last rites.

Everything to everyone

In 1931, Pius XI gave Father Ghika the title of Protonotary Apostolic; the humble priest became, in spite of himself, Monsignor Ghika. He pursued an apostolate which led him as far away as Japan and Argentina, according to the call of Divine Providence. In September 1939, he obtained authorization from the Archbishop of Paris to move to Romania, where Polish refugees were arriving in droves, fleeing Soviet or German occupation. In Bucharest, throughout the Second World War, he carried out a tireless ministry for the refugees, the sick, the prisoners, the victims of bombings. Unable to remedy all the sufferings, he strove to help others understand that «suffering is, for the Christian, above all a visit from God, a sure visit.»

His apostolate was equally carried out towards the Greek Orthodox clergy, whom, by means of conferences, he instructed in Catholicism, particularly in the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, born in 1698 by an act of union between the Transylvanian Orthodox Church and Rome. On March 23, 1991, Pope John Paul II described this union as «a happy and blessed event.» The Greek-Catholic Church retains the liturgy of the Greek rite celebrated in Romanian. In 1948, before the Communist persecution, it included six bishops, 1,700 priests, 2,500 churches and more than a million and a half faithful. Today it is experiencing a veritable renaissance.

Under the red star

The Soviet army entered Romania in August 1944 and, little by little, a Communist regime was established. A «Popular Republic» was declared in December 1947. The following year, Stalin ordered the subjection of the Orthodox Church and the suppression of the Greek-Catholic Church, which would be forcibly attached to the Romanian Orthodox patriarchate. Also in 1948, the money in circulation was discontinued without any compensation whatsoever, causing the utter ruin of property owners and those living on a fixed income. Famine ensued. Reduced to indigence, Prince Demeter Ghika left in exile. But Vladimir did not resign himself to abandoning the persecuted Romanian Christians: «If God wants me here, I will stay here,» he said, not unaware of the fate which sooner or later was in store for him.

Evicted from his home, which was ransacked, then from Saint Vincent de Paul Hospital, Monsignor Ghika took shelter in an attic and continued his apostolate, comforting, converting, baptizing, in spite of close surveillance by the police. He received many Orthodox into the Catholic Church, while Catholic bishops and priests were arrested one after the other. He likewise baptized many Jews. However, he ate little and his health deteriorated appreciably. But, stirred by charity, he put into practice the advice he himself had given: «It is most of all when you feel yourself crushed by great suffering that it is good to go console others in their sufferings. To give oneself, in times like these, when you are no longer anything, when there is no longer anything inside you, is truly to give a little of God... and to find Him.»

«I believe in Your goodnessmore than in what has made me suffer»

Called on November 18, 1952 to the bedside of a dying man, Monsignor Ghika was forced on the way into a car by two plain clothes police officers. He was put into military prison, where twenty other «suspects,» priests and lay persons, joined him the following day—all had been accused of spying for the Vatican! Monsignor Ghika stayed there for close to a year in undergarments and without spare clothes. Over the course of more than eighty nighttime interrogations, he was slapped, beaten and tortured to the point of temporary loss of hearing and sight. In his heart, the martyr repeated, «Lord, I believe in Your goodness more than in the very reality which is making me suffer, more than in my torture.» Changing their style, the torturers promised him freedom if he renounced his union with Rome in order to become a «priest of peace,» collaborating with the regime. He firmly refused.

In his Conversation on Suffering, he had written, «One suffers in proportion to one's love. The power we have to suffer is the same as the power we have to love. But God watches over His children at night. He is the great watchman of all nights, nights of the flesh, of the intelligence, of the heart, nights of evil whose shadows descend at all hours upon suffering humanity. Who can say with what love He watches over us? This love has a name and quality. It is infinite love.»

Faithful to divine preferenceseven unto martyrdom

On October 24, 1953, Monsignor Ghika, in his eighties, came before his judges, standing, indomitable, weighing less than 50 kilos (110 lbs.), though 1.76 meters (5 feet 7 inches) tall. After a sham trial, he was condemned to three years of imprisonment and thrown into the dungeon of the Julava prison, dripping with humidity, where 240 inmates were packed in. Some of them offered him their clothing; all of them flocked around him and benefited from his ministry. He preached, recounted memories from the past, and a bit of joy shone on the faces which surrounded him. He had written, «If you know how to take upon yourself another's sufferings, the Lord will take yours upon Himself and make them His, that is, workers of salvation... Happy are those who love God, for they no longer consider even wondering whether they are happy or unhappy.» Each day, he prayed the Rosary and taught his companions to «say the Rosary with joy, in the company of Mary, this Rosary at once human and divine, which is an image of our life: the Rosary of our Salvation, made of our daily trials, of our graces, of our triumphs.» He usually gave half of his meager rations to those who were more hungry than he. Often, he spoke of the meaning of suffering: «If God has led us here, it is in order to forgive us our sins and to have us leave here better than we are.» Even though Monsignor Ghika was unable to celebrate Mass, the terrible dungeon had become a church. The guards could not comprehend where the joy that brightened the prisoners' faces had come from. A witness remembers, «In this man, I saw true freedom. Never have I seen it to such a degree in another person. For him, the prison walls did not exist. He was free, because he was doing the will of God.»

The absence of breathable air in the overpopulated cell, the lack of basic hygiene and food, and the terrible cold of the winter of 1953-54 depleted his strength, though not his courage. In January 1954, prisoner Ghika was classified incapable of work and transferred to the infirmary, where he slowly faded away in a state of constant prayer. He was heard to say, «Lord, do not abandon me. I embrace Your Love to triumph over the hate of my enemies...» He offered his life for the Church and for Romania. On May 17, he went to his final rest in the Lord. «Our death,» he had written, «should be the greatest act of our lives. But God may be the only one who witnesses it...»

Monsignor Ghika's process of beatification is in progress. The prince will be—we hope—soon elevated to the glory of the altars, along with Romanian Catholic bishops in office in 1945 who all died in prison or in exile without denying their faith.

During his trip to Romania, May 8, 1999, Pope John Paul II celebrated a Mass in the Byzantine-Romanian rite. In his homily, he stated, «I am here to honor you, sons of the Greek-Catholic Church who, over the course of three centuries, testify, at the cost of even unimaginable sacrifices, to your faith in Unity. I come to you to express to you the gratitude of the Catholic Church... You have given witness to the truth which sets free... I have just come from the Catholic cemetery in this city. I have appealed to your martyrs both known and unknown, who intercede for you before our Father who is in Heaven.» Henceforth, for all these martyrs, there are neither walls nor heavy doors. They rejoice forever in the perfect and sure freedom brought by the vision of God face to face. May they intercede for us, so that we might be worthy of attaining, as they did, this unending happiness.

Dom Antoine Marie osb