13 November – Blessed Eugene Bossilkov, C.P.

EB1The Passionist Bishop and Martyr, Eugene Bossilkov, was born November 16, 1900 in Belene (Bulgaria), a village in the Danube Valley. His family were farmers and Catholics of the Latin Rite.

In 1914 he began his studies with the Passionists, who had been missionaries in northern Bulgaria since the late 1700’s. He studied in Passionist seminaries in Belgium and Holland, and in 1920 became a professed member of that community. He took the name Eugene, and to the vows taken by religious, he joined another vow taken by the Passionists: to keep in constant memory the Passion of Jesus. In 1924, he returned to Bulgaria to continue his theological studies and was ordained by the Passionist Bishop Damian Theden in 1926.

In 1927, he was sent to Rome to pursue doctoral studies at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he wrote his thesis: On the Union of Bulgarians with the Roman Church in the Early 13th Century. In 1933 he returned to his diocese to become secretary to the bishop and pastor of the cathedral. Since he preferred ministry with the people, however, he was assigned as pastor of the town of Bardaski-Gheran, in the Danube valley, where he brought new life into the parish through his liturgical and catechetical efforts. He was especially concerned for the young whom he tried to inspire through a variety of religious, social and sports programs. His reputation grew: a gifted linguist, a cultured scholar, he was generally admired. In 1938, he was chosen as official speaker for the 250tb anniversary of the Catholic insurrection against the Turks.

But times changed. In 1940 Bulgaria joined the Axis in the 2nd World War. Four years later the Soviet Union invaded Bulgaria after the retreat of German troops and subjugated the country militarily, politically and ideologically. After the death of Bishop Theelen in 1946, Father Bossilkov was ordained Bishop of Nicopolis in 1947, when churches faced a new round of difficulties from government laws drafted to destroy religion. In 1948, Bishop Bossilkov received government permission to go to Rome for his “Ad limina” visit, where he was received by Pope Pius XII. He took the occasion to visit friends and companions in Holland. Then he returned to his diocese where he began a series of missions to prepare his people for the religious persecution they were certain to face.

In 1949, the Apostolic Delegate to Bulgaria was expelled, and new steps were taken by the government to crush the Catholic Church and create a national church in its place. Laws were passed expelling all foreign missionaries, confiscating Church property and institutions, suppressing religious congregations and dispersing their members. In 1950-51 the noose of persecution tightened until finally, in 1952, mass arrests of church leaders began. Bishop Bossilkov was seized July 16, 1952, while on vacation at a house outside Sophia. Arrested at the same time as Bossilkov were 40 other priests, some religious and lay people.

On August 8th, Father Formnato Bakalski, superior of the Capuchin community of Sophia, was arrested.

Confined to prison in Sophia, Bishop Bossilkov was physically and mentally tortured into making a confession. On September 20, the party newspapers published accusations against him on their first page. A mock trial was conducted from September 29th to October 3rd.

Bossilkov was presented as ‘chief’ of a subversive Catholic spy organization.” The trial ended with a guilty verdict. Condemned with Bishop Bossilkov on similar charges were the Assumptionist priests, Kamen Vicev Jonkov, Pavel Dgldgiov, Josafat Sciskov, and the Capuchin priest, Fortunato Bakalski. They were sentenced to death by firing squad

When last seen alive, Bishop Bossilkov said to his niece and to his friends: “Don’t worry about me; I have been given God’s grace, and I am going to remain faithful to Christ and to the Church.”

He was executed in the prison at Sophia on the night of 11th November at 11:30 p.m.

His body was thrown into a common grave for criminals; the precise location of his burial place and his body is unknown.

Bishop Eugene Bossilkov, C.P., was beatified by Pope John Paul II during Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on March 15, 1998. The Bishop and martyr Vincent Eugene Bossilkov truly drank from the spiritual rock which is Christ.

A faithful follower of the founder of his congregation, St. Paul of the Cross, he cultivated the spirituality of the Passion. He also gave himself unreservedly to serve pastorally the Christian community entrusted to him, accepting without hesitation the supreme test of martyrdom.

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