Blessed Eugene Bossilkov C.P.
The 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.
BULGARIAN SUPREME COURT EXONERATES BLESSED EUGENE BOSSILKOV
Bishop Executed During Stalinist Regime
ROME, SEP 14 1999 (ZENIT).- The Bulgarian Supreme Court of Appeals concluded its inquiry to abolish the condemnation of Bishop Eugene Bossilkov, executed on November 11, 1952, by the Stalinist regime. In their final statement they affirm that “Masquerading as justice, in essence the process was nothing other than a manifestation of the repression of persons who had a different opinion.”
The martyr, who was beatified by John Paul II on March 15, 1998 in St. Peter’s Basilica, was accused of establishing and directing “an illegal organization to bring down the popular-democratic authority in the Republic, through revolution and subversion,” in addition to having participated in Vatican, French, and other imperialist countries’ espionage,” through transmissions of “information containing State secrets.” The proofs, on which the prosecution based the case, were foreign postcards found in the Bishop’s home, parts of an old record player considered to be components of the apparatus for the clandestine transmission of State secrets, and alleged “confessions” extracted under torture.
Fr. Giovanni Zuliani, the Passionists’ General Postulator, explained that “the purpose of the process was to destroy the Catholic Church, by striking its highest members.” The Supreme Court’s revision of the case clearly establishes its farcical character.
The abolition of this condemnation is the latest event in the ongoing constructive dialogue between Bulgaria and resident members of the Catholic Church who are active in the country.
Last year, during the installation of a commemorative plaque in the Sophia jail, on the first anniversary of the martyr’s beatification, many who witnessed the Bishop’s martyrdom heard Bulgarian Minister of Justice, Vassil Gotzev, acknowledge that “permission to place a stone in memory of the martyr in this jail is not the merit of the Ministry of Justice. Rather, the Ministry is at fault for not ordering until today the placing of the names of all those killed in the struggle for liberty and democracy in this and other jails (…) What I can say as Minster of Justice of a democratic government is that we are doing all that is necessary; may God bless us in achieving this, so that we will never again allow the jailing of persons of a different ideology, that those detained will never again be mistreated, and that there will never again be people who must endure sufferings because of their ideas. When the society we are building achieves all this, Blessed Bossilkov will be satisfied because he is among us.”
The Minister of Justice himself gave his word to the Episcopal Conference that he would continue investigations to identify the place where the martyr’s body was hidden, sought in vain by fellow Passionists, who at present carry out their pastoral service in the martyr’s diocese.
A copy of the document abolishing the martyr’s sentence was sent recently to Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and to the Passionists’ Superior General.
PRAYER TO BLESSED EUGENE BOSSILKOV
who bestowed upon Blessed Eugene, your bishop,
the grace to strengthen his flock
in the faith and unity of the Church
even by the shedding of his blood,
grant us, we pray,
that just as he did not fear to die for you,
we, too, may live our lives
firmly confessing you.
We ask this
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen
HOMILY ON THE OCCASION OF THE BEATIFICATION OF PASSIONIST BLESSED EUGENE BOSSILKOV
BEATIFICATION OF THREE SERVANTS OF GOD
Sunday, 15 March 1998
1. “God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I“” (Ex 3:4).
In the first reading we heard the account of Moses’ vocation. God reveals his own name to Moses: “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14), so that he would tell it to the people of Israel. This is how a special relationship of trust and familiarity is established between God and his messenger. He is invested with authority as mediator between the people and their Lord. Because of this responsibility, he will become God’s instrument for Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Through his work, Yahweh himself will lead the people for 40 years through the desert to the promised land and make the great Covenant of Sinai with them.
The history of Moses’ vocation clearly shows how the call to communion with God, and therefore to holiness, is the necessary premise for every particular mission for the sake of the community and in service to one’s brothers and sisters.
The divine initiative, which calls a person to holiness and entrusts him with a special mission in service to his neighbour, shines brightly in the spiritual experience of the three new Servants of God whom I have had the joy today of raising to the glory of the altars: Vincent Eugene Bossilkov, Brigida of Jesus Morello, religious and foundress of the Ursuline Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and María of Mt Carmel Sallés y Barangueras, virgin and foundress of the Missionary Teaching Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
2. “They drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). The martyr Bishop, Vincent Eugene Bossilkov, drank from the supernatural Rock which is Christ. Faithfully following the charism of St Paul of the Cross, founder of his congregation, he intensively cultivated the spirituality of the Passion. He also dedicated himself without reserve to the pastoral service of the Christian community entrusted to his care and faced the supreme trial of martyrdom without hesitation.
Bishop Bossilkov thus became the Church’s radiant glory in his country. A fearless witness to the Cross of Christ, he is one of the many victims sacrificed by atheistic communism in Bulgaria and elsewhere, in its plan to destroy the
Church. In those times of harsh persecution, many looked to him and drew from his example of courage the strength to remain faithful to the Gospel to the very end. I am pleased, on this festive day for the Bulgarian nation, to honour those who, like Bishop Bossilkov, paid with their lives for adhering without reserve to the faith they received in Baptism.
Bishop Bossilkov was able wonderfully to combine an intense spiritual life and constant attention to the needs of his brethren with his mission as priest and Bishop. Today he is presented to us as an eminent figure of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria, not only because of his extensive learning, but for his constant ecumenical concern and his heroic fidelity to the See of Peter.
When the communist regime’s hostility to the Church become more determined and threatening, Bl. Bossilkov chose to stay by his people, although he knew that this meant risking his life. He was not afraid to face the storm of persecution. When he sensed the moment of supreme trial, he wrote to the Superior of his religious Province: “I have the courage to live; I hope I will also have it to suffer the worst and to stay faithful to Christ, to the Pope and to the Church!” (Letter XIV).
And so this Bishop and martyr, who throughout his life strove to be a faithful image of the Good Shepherd, became one in an altogether special way at the moment of death when he united his blood with that of the Lamb sacrficed for the world’s salvation. What a shining example for us all, called to bear faithful witness to Christ and his Gospel! What a great encouragement for those who today are still suffering injustice and oppression because of their faith! May the example of this martyr, whom we contemplate today in the glory of the blesseds, instil faith and zeal in all Christians, especially those of the beloved Bulgarian nation which from now on can invoke him as its heavenly protector.
3. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love“. These words, which today’s liturgy presents in the responsorial psalm, sustained and guided the heroic fidelity to the Gospel of Bl. Brigida of Jesus Morello, religious and foundress of the Ursuline Sisters of Mary Immaculate. The events of her varied life – first as a young woman gifted with human and spiritual virtues, then as a wise and faithful wife, a Christian widow and, lastly, as a consecrated person and a guide for her sisters – reflect with exceptional clarity the new blessed’s trusting abandonment to the mercy of God who “is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”.
At a similar school, Bl. Brigida of Jesus learned the basic lesson of love that is spent in daily dedication to the service of one’s neighbour. At a time when the ideals of femininity were given scant consideration, Bl. Morello quietly brought to light woman’s value in the family and in society. In love with God, she was thus ready to open her heart and her arms to brothers and sisters in need. Enriched with mystical gifts but at the same time tried by long and severe suffering, she never ceased to be an authentic teacher of the spiritual life and a significant example of a wonderful blend of consecrated life and social and educational activity.
A constant invitation to trust in God shines through her writings. She loved to repeat: “Trust, trust, great heart! God is our Father and will never abandon us!”.
Is this not a remarkably contemporary message that the new Blessed offers us? Our sister in the faith, today raised to the honours of the altar, forcefully reminds us that loving God is the secret of all true and effective social involvement for the good of our brothers and sisters.
4. The first reading from the Book of Exodus presents Moses’ calling and mission according to a typical pattern of vocational accounts in the Bible: the divine call, the objections of the chosen and the sign of protection and satisfaction on God’s part. These elements are also found in the life of Carmen Sallés y Barangueras, foundress of the Missionary Teaching Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. From her youth, the new blessed focused all her efforts on discerning God’s will for her. Various experiences of religious life led her to discover that her mission in the Church was to sow goodness in children and young people, to protect them from the evils that threaten them and to provide women with learning and professional training that would enable them to take a worthy place in society.
Dedicated in this way to women’s education, she overcame many dificulties, seeing herself as a “useless instrument in the hands of Mary Immaculate”; she took on daring projects which were the fruit of prayer and the advice of welltrained persons, repeating with firm confidence: “Onwards, ever onwards. God will provide”.
A valiant woman, Mother Carmen based her life and work on a Christocentric and Marian spirituality nourished by solid and sensible piety. Her Conceptionist charism, a sign of the Lord’s love for his people, lives on today in the witness of her daughters who, as missionaries in schools and colleges, enthusiastically evangelize through their teaching.
5. “Repent, says the Lord, the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Gospel acclamation; cf. Mt 4:17). The Gospel passage for today, the Third Sunday of Lent, highlights the basic theme of this important season of the liturgical year: the invitation to repent and to perform worthy acts of penance.
The three new blesseds who are presented today for our veneration were able to accept this demanding invitation. It was not an easy path for them. Indeed, they had to face trials and opposition; but they always did so with a heart ready to do God’s will to the end. They combatted evil by doing good. Thus, by word and example they became credible witnesses for their contemporaries. With their help, many others have accepted Christ and his Gospel of salvation.
In our time, as we now rapidly approach the third millennium, may the lives of our illustrious brothers and sisters spur us to follow the Lord faithfully on the difficult but shining path of fidelity to Christ.