Father Paolo Cortese, a Roman Catholic priest who lives and works in the Bulgarian town of Belene, is “Human of the Year 2017”.
He received the award from the NGO ‘Bulgarian Helsinki Committee’ (BHC), at an event on Monday in Sofia. The Director and founder of the BHC, Krassimir Kanev, presented the award to the priest.
Cortese was awarded “for his good example of genuine charity, and for sheltering a family of refugees legally residing in Bulgaria”, the BHC said.
“We could not protect this peaceful Syrian family. May God forgive me”, Cortese himself stated at the ‘Human of the Year’ event.
According to Kanev, Cortese was picked for his for righteousness. “He gave an example to all of us, how to assert our convictions when we are facing injustice alone.”
In March of 2017, Paolo Cortese had accommodated a Syrian family at the Catholic church in Belene. A local politician by the name of Krassimir Todorov and some of his followers complained about the presence of the refugees in the town.
Shortly after, Father Cortese received death threats. That was when he decided to leave Bulgaria and go back to Italy. Only days later, the Catholic church Cortese worked in was set on fire and got damaged badly.
In the eyes of some, the most disgusting part of the scandal was the fact that not a single high-ranking Bulgarian politician stepped in or supported Cortese in any way, at the time.
By now, the holder of the “Human of the Year 2017” award is back in Belene. The death threats seem to have been retracted, at least for now.
The BHC also honoured many others who helped people in need or who contributed to the struggle for more freedom and democracy.
They included Zlatina Staykova and Radoslava Stancheva, two former teachers from closed state schools, who created an interactive room at the children’s ward of the St. George University Hospital in Plovdiv.
Kristina Kostova is the creator of the first Cyrillic font for people with dyslexia. She was awarded as well. So was the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria for its work in defense of free journalism.
Photos by Imanuel Marcus