Bishop Eugene Bossilkov, C.P., a Modern Christian Martyr

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. They gave him the name Vincent at baptism.

In 1914 he began his studies with the Passionists, who had been missionaries in northern Bulgaria since the late 1700s. 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 the additional 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 Theelen 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, on the 250th anniversary of the Catholic insurrection against the Turks, he was chosen as the official speaker.

But times changed.

In 1940 Bulgaria joined the Axis in the Second 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 Bossilkof was ordained Bishop of Nicopolis in 1947. 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 X11. 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 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 Fortunato Bakalski, superior of the Capuchin community of Sophia, was arrested.

Confined to prison in Sophia, Bishop Bossilkov was physically and mentally tortured to make a confession. On September 20, the party newspapers published accusations against him on their first page. A dummy trial was conducted from September 29th to October 3rd. A witness at the first courtroom session, K. Drenikov, described the scene.

On a large table there were "proofs" of guilt. There were two pistols, which were taken from the Catholic college in Sophia, where they were conserved as museum pieces. Also there was an old radio transmitter that, according to the judges, was used to transmit coded messages to foreign sources. Bosillkov was presented as "chief" of an 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 Dgidgiov, Josafat Sciskov, and the Capuchin priest, Fortunato Bakalski. The official sentence against Bishop Bossilkov read:

By virtue of articles 70 and 83 of the penal code, the court condemns the accused, Eugene Bossilkov, to be sentenced to death by firing squad, and all his goods confiscated... Dr.Eugene Bossilkov, Catholic bishop; completed his religious studies in Italy and was trained by the Vatican for counter-revolutionary activities and espionage. He is one of the directors of a clandestine Catholic organization. He was in touch with diplomats from the imperialist countries and gave them information of a confidential nature. The accused convoked a diocesan council in which it was decided to combat communism through religious conferences, held in Bulgaria, activities called ' a mission.' No appeal of his sentence is possible. The High Court ,Sophia, Bulgaria, October 3, 1952

At the last, he 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 November 11th 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.

News of the trial and execution emerged in scattered reports from the secretive Iron Curtain nation. On December 15, 1952, Pius XII in an encyclical letter "On the Oriental Churches" spoke of the disturbing news of persecutions in Bulgaria:

"Bulgaria...where there is a small but flourishing community of Catholics; a nation in which so violent a storm has broken out that the Church has been reduced to a state of profound mourning. Employing their infamous methods of denunciation, ministers of God have been convicted as public criminals. Among them, Our venerable brother, Eugene Bossilkov, Bishop of Nicopolis, was condemned to capital punishment, together with three other priests who have worked in the ministry with him. Not a few others are also in prison or in concentration camps. To these may be added the many Catholics punished in so many ways who, thereby, also merit the same triumphant palm and the glory of martyrdom."

The first official notice of Bishop Bossilkov's death came in 1975. In an audience with Bulgarian Chief of State, Todor Zhikov, June 27th, Pope Paul V1 asked him directly what happened to Bishop Bossilkov. "Bishop Bossilkov died in prison twenty three years ago," he answered.

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