Roman Catholics in Bulgaria have commemorated the memory of Nikopol Bishop Eugene Bossilkov and priests Kamen Vichev, Pavel Djidjov and Josaphat Chichkov, killed by the communist regime 65 years ago.
In Bulgaria’s city of Rousse, on the Danube, a service of silent prayer was held to honour the memory of Bishop Bossilkov, who spent much of his life in the city.
A member of the Passionist Congregation, Bossilkov earned his doctorate in Rome at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and became a parish priest in the Danube valley.
After being consecrated as a bishop, in 1952 he was arrested along with many other clergy, as the communist regime that had taken over Bulgaria a few years earlier carried out its campaign to subvert and destroy religion. The regime had already, in 1948, expelled Papal Nuncio Monsignor Galloi from Bulgaria.
The arrested priests were put on trial on various trumped-up charges of crimes against the state.
Bishop Bossilkov, who had continued his religious activities vigorously in spite of the nature of the regime, was severely tortured, as were the other accused. At a show trial, the communist authorities produced in evidence two pistols that supposedly had been found at the Roman Catholic college in Sofia. The pistols in fact were from a museum exhibition.
Bossilkov was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. He was shot dead in the grounds of Sofia Central Prison on the night of November 11. The priests Djidjov, Chichkov and Vichev, also found guilty in the same show trial and handed the same sentence, were also shot dead the same night. The bodies were thrown in a mass grave, the whereabouts of which are not known.
Effective confirmation of Bossilkov’s death, details of which were concealed by the communist authorities, came only in 1975 when a Bulgarian minister visited the Vatican and was asked directly by Pope Paul VI what had happened to Bossilkov.
In the 1980s, a campaign began to put Bishop Bossilkov on the path to being declared a saint. In March 1998, Pope John Paul II declared him Blessed. The Pope received in audience a delegation of senior Bulgarian government officials and Roman Catholic clergy, and pronounced a blessing on all Bulgarians.
Pope John Paul II, during a visit to Plovdiv in May 2002, beatified Vichev, Djidjov and Chichkov.
In July 2010, Bulgaria’s National Assembly formally rehabilitated all who had been sentenced by the communist courts, including the slain clergy.
(Main photo: Bishop Bossilkov)