BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Thousands have gathered on Saturday for the beatification of a Romanian prince who spent decades traveling around the world helping the sick and the poor and died after being tortured in a Communist prison.
Pope Francis approved the beatification in March of Monsignor Vladimir Ghika who was declared a martyr for his Christian faith. Beatification, which gives Ghika the title "blessed," is the next-to-last stage in the process of the canonization of saints.
Born into a family of Moldovan nobles in Constantinople in 1873, Ghika converted to Catholicism in 1902. He spent his life helping victims of cholera, tuberculosis and earthquakes and was ordained as a priest in Paris in 1923.
He traveled around the world from Bucharest, to Buenos Aires to Tokyo which led Pope Pius XI to call him his "an apostolic vagabond." Despite coming from a wealthy family, he was known for his modest ways, always traveling in the cheapest class and of hearing confessions from people in bars, on the street, and on the subway.
Thousands of Catholics from Romania and abroad attended a two-hour service Saturday in the Romexpo trade center, and Prime Minister Victor Ponta called him "a great European spirit who refused to compromise with totalitarianism."
"He helped the poor and troubled and wounded soldiers," said Mariuta Istoc, 68, who was dressed in colorful festive peasant clothes and had traveled more than 300 kilometers (190 miles) from her village for the service. "He built dispensaries and many other things. He gave all his fortune to the poor. He came from a noble family but he gave all he had to the poor."
Catholic priest Eugen Botos said Ghika "lived during that very hard period, after the war, when the church and faith were persecuted. And he gave his life for the church, being accused of everything possible. "
When the communists came to power, Ghika refused to leave Romania. He was arrested in 1952 and convicted of treason, denounced as "a spy for the Vatican." He suffered electric shocks during his interrogation and beatings as he refused to denounce his faith. He died in Jilava Communist prison in 1954.
Romanian Orthodox Bishop Varlaam Ploiesteanul attended the service and praised Ghika, who was born into a family of Eastern Orthodox Christians, as bringing together "the two traditions, eastern and western."
Ploiesteanul said Ghika also "had something that united the believers of all faiths in Romania: the suffering and the resistance against the oppression of the communist regime."