The head of the Roman Catholic church, Pope Francis, has elevated the status of the exarchate of Sofia to an eparchy and appointed Bishop Christo Proykov as the first eparchal bishop, the Vatican has announced.
The Pope has given the eparch the name “Eparchy of Saint John XXIII of Sofia for Catholics of Byzantine-Slavic rite in Bulgaria”.
Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Christo Proykov, currently exarch, as first eparchal bishop, transferring him from the titular see of Briula.
Proykov was born in March 1946 in Sofia. After completing his philosophical and theological studies privately, he was ordained a priest in May 1971. In 1980 he was sent to Rome where, in 1982, he obtained a degree in canon law from the Pontifical Oriental Institute. On December 18 1993, he was appointed as titular bishop of Briula and coadjutor of the apostolic exarch, Archbishop Metodius Stratiev, A.A., receiving episcopal ordination from Pope John Paul II on January 6 1994.
He is currently president of the Inter-Regional Episcopal Conference of Bulgaria.
The announcement by the Vatican comes a few months after the visit by Pope Francis to Bulgaria. Francis became the second serving Pope to visit Bulgaria, after the visit by John Paul II in May 2002.
The Catholic Apostolic Exarchy, headquartered in Sofia, was established in 1926. The first apostolic exarch was Bishop Kiril Kurtev.
At the point of its elevation to an eparchy, the Catholic Apostolic Exarchy of Sofia had about 20 parishes nationwide, served by 18 priests. It houses various Roman Catholic monastic orders.
According to the most recent census in Bulgaria, conducted in 2011, about 60 per cent of Bulgarians are adherents of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, while 0.9 per cent are Protestants and 0.7 per cent are Roman Catholics. Answering a question about religious affiliation was, however, optional. Bulgaria’s next national census is to be conducted in 2021.