Gafencu, his mother and his close friend, Ioan Ianolide at the labour camp Galda de Jos, 1946.

Ioan Ianolide’s statement about Valeriu Gafencu during an investigation by the secret police Securitate in 1958. The Securitate assimilated all religious or cultural activities inside Târgu Ocna and other penitentiaries with the propagation of the legionary doctrine. Gafencu was a key figure in the trial that accused the prisoners of counter-revolutionary activity, even though he was dead since 1952. Ianolide states that Gafencu’s principles had similarities to those stated by Corneliu Codreanu (leader of the Iron Guard/Legionary Movement), but only because they had the same source – the Bible.

Pitesti Prison, today Pitesti Prison Memorial.

Valeriu Gafencu

Valeriu Gafencu was born on 24 January 1921 in Sângerei, Bessarabia, now Republic of Moldova. He was arrested in 1941, spent 12 years in different prisons and died on 18 February 1952 in Targu Ocna penitentiary, because of tuberculosis. Valeriu Gafencu was one of the many victims of the violent communist repression in Romania. Also known as “the Saint of the Prisons”, he is a model of spiritual revival in prisons. The difficult imprisonment years in different penitentiaries (Aiud, Pitești, Târgu Ocna) have enabled Gafencu to deeply reconsider his beliefs, to find purpose in suffering, while his illness became his tool to love Christ and those around him. During his many years of imprisonment, Valeriu Gafencu focused on his spiritual growth, which reached a climax in Târgu Ocna sanatorium-penitentiary. The spiritual movement he mentored there influenced political prisoners’ understanding and practice of spiritual life as superior to political ideals. The movement was so influential that the Securitate (secret police) kept investigating members of the “mystical group” years after the death of Gafencu and after the release of some of the prisoners. Perhaps more than his life, Gafencu’s death, caused by tuberculosis and poor detention conditions, had a considerable impact on those around him, holding a particular place in their memory. As he gave his friends his last advice to pray and stay strong, he continued to express his gratitude towards God, his happiness at dying for Christ and his wish that they would all walk in heaven through the same door. His last breath was described by Ioan Ianolide, his close friend, as enveloped in a divine, yet tangible light, “like a perfect reality that you feel happy just seeing.”