of Sister Gabriella Bossilkov,
niece of Bishop Bossilkov
Sister Gabriella, what is your relationship to Bishop Bossilkov?
My name at baptism was Raffaella. I am the daughter of Atanasio Bossilkov, the brother of the bishop.
What are your thoughts about about the bishop?
I think of my uncle with intense respect and gratitude because my life is intricately intertwined with his. When the Lord called me to Religious Life I immediately went to speak to Uncle Eugene to ask his advice. At that time he was pastor of the village of Bardárski Gherán. On December 18, 1940 I joined the Sisters at Sofia. I often saw my uncle at the Oriental Institute.
On September 9, 1944 the Russian troops entered Bulgaria and the superiors, Fr. Francesco Galloni and Sr. Emma Ghiardini, sent me to get my identity card reissued to bring it up to date. When I went to my town of Bélene and once again saw my uncle Eugene. I then returned Sofia and on October 7, 1947 I participated in his episcopal consecration in Roussé.
What was your uncle like during those difficult years?
He was a learned man. I don't know how many languages he spoke. He clearly knew what the communist regime in Bulgaria intended to do: to discover those bishops and priests who were willing to separate the Catholic Church from Rome.
Did they offer him anything?
They promised him a car, a villa, a lot of money. My uncle always turned them down.
Do you remember his arrest?
For a brief period Sister Cecilia and I used to go to work on a small farm which Bishop Galloni had acquired, a little outside of Sofia. My Uncle would come for a rest for a few weeks during the summer.
When he came in 1952 he told us that in Plovdiv, the diocese with the greatest number of Catholics, many priests were being arrested. On July 1st two secret service agents of the police came and searched the house, but they didn’t arrest anyone. On July 16 at 5:00 a.m., seven agents arrived. They knocked on the window of his room. He invited them to come in along with us two Sisters.
A police officer said to us: ‘You two sit in the vestibule and wait.’ In the meantime, three police officers went through every part of the house, which only had one floor and no electricity. The search of the house lasted for three hours. They were looking for guns, radio-transmitters, publications. They searched everywhere, even the tabernacle, without any respect for the consecrated hosts. At 9:00 a.m. they announced that my uncle was under arrest.
What did you do then?
From July 16 until September 29th nothing was known about him. The day before his trial was to begin, we were advised that we should bring him a noon-day meal throughout the duration of the trial.
And what do you recall from those days?
We visited him in the morning and in the afternoon, with the doors open. Sister Cecilia and I would go every day. There were three Assumptionists on trial with my uncle. The trial lasted until October 3rd. They bribed him with everything so that he would separate himself from Rome. They accused him of being a spy for the Vatican and for capitalist countries. During the trial he was subjected to every kind of torture. They wanted the four of them to sign a document that they were against the Pope.
Were you able to get near your uncle and speak to him during the trial?
On Monday, Sept. 29 from a distance we greeted him in the hall. All four of them were very thin. My Uncle turned toward us and waved. The following day we met in the public area and he thanked us for the food we had brought him, especially the coffee. On Wednesday, after the first visiting period, we were allowed a meeting that lasted for 15 minutes.
My uncle asked us: ‘What do the people think? Do they think it’s true what they are saying about us?’ Many believed the lies and the calumnies that they were being told about him. We related to him that the law students had taken up his case and this calmed him down.
Then he asked: ‘Do you know anything about Fr. Fortunato?’ He was the superior of the Capuchins in Sofia.
We responded that he had died of natural causes.
‘No’, he said. They killed him.’
He told us that an agent had come to him and told him, “Bossilkov, do you want to some and see Fortunato? This way you will know what awaits you.” I told him, ‘No, what I have heard is enough’.
My uncle, whose cell was near his, had heard him screaming from the beatings. He begged us not to return to Roussé, but to stay in Sofia.
He blessed us and asked that we pray for him. On Friday, October 3rd, the last day of the trial, the sessions began at 3 PM. At 6 PM the sentencing was to take place, but it was delayed till 9 PM. Four of them were condemned to death.
Were you able to see your uncle afterwards?
I saw him from a distance. On Monday, Oct. 6, we went back to the prison. We had to wait. There were a lot of people. Those who were condemned to death passed by to give a final farewell to their family.
Around noon, we heard someone shout: ‘Is the family of Eugene Bossilkov here?’
We pushed our way through and we saw my uncle in chains. When we got close, we told him that we had forwarded a request for his pardon.
He responded: ‘No! I feel that the Lord will give me his grace. I accept death. Don't cry; the Virgin won't abandon us. We have help from heaven. I have not denied the church, or the Holy Father or Father Francisco Galloni, as they have said. Send my greetings to my brothers, and all my friends, and people I know, also those in Belgium and Holland. Please stay in Sofia. Tomorrow bring me two blankets, because I have to sleep on the cement floor, and some money. They let us have dry fruit and nuts. Do what you can over the weeks I'm here in the central prison in Sofia.’
The following day we brought him what he had asked, and did so until Nov. 8th. We put the things in a small basket, which he sent back to us with a small signed piece of paper. On November 18th the basket came back by mail. It was still full. Then we knew that something tragic had happened.
Since I was his relative, they only let me enter. I was interrogated by two people. ‘What do you want?’
‘I’ve come to get some news about my uncle, the Catholic bishop of Rousse, the one who was condemned to death a month ago. I sent him some dried fruit and some money in a basket and he sent it back to me empty, except for a small piece of paper with his signature. On Nov.18th the small basket came back still full. What happened?’
They told me, ‘We will let you know right away.’ One of them took a piece of paper out of a folder. On it was written: ‘Eugene Alois Dobrev Bossilkov, shot to death on November 11, 1952.’
I screamed,‘But that’s not my uncle. Dobrev is not his last name.’
The police officer replied: ‘You don’t know anything. In prison we give them more names. This way we baptize them.’
‘OK’, I replied, ‘give me this piece of paper as proof.’ I let them know that my uncle had an identity card, eye glasses, a wrist watch, and a wallet.
‘We sent the ring to his address. Buscalo in Roussé. The identity card,’ he yelled, ‘goes to the commune where the person lived. So look for it in Roussé. The eye–glasses... don’t you know the condemned was wearing them? And why do you want the other things, to sell them?’ he said. Then he insulted me. ‘You're stupid. You don’t know anything.’
‘Yes, you’re right, however, I know that you make people disappear.’
‘Right, people like your uncle.’
‘Tell me at least, where is he buried?’
‘The grave of criminals like you Uncle is unmarked. However, if you wish, to console you, go the central cemetery. There is a section, in the back of the cemetery that is called “the white crosses.” Perhaps you will find your Uncle’s name on one of the crosses. Do you want to take your Uncle’s clothing?’
He led me into a big hall and made me wait. Until that moment I had felt strong and courageous, but when an officer arrived with the knapsack in which we had put the blankets and, opening it, I saw his cassock, the shirts and the other things, I began to cry and scream.
The police officer said to me: ‘Don’t cry, he was a very good man, a very good man.’
He put the things back in the knapsack and accompanied me to the door where Sister Cecilia was waiting for me. We returned home.
The following day we went to the cemetery but we didn’t find anything. Liars!
We went back to the procurator to get a death certificate, which we never got. Then there began to circulate a lot of different rumors: that my uncle was alive, that he was in a concentration camp, perhaps in exile on the Island of Belené, perhaps in Siberia.
I know that Stalin had given the order that all those condemned to death in that period would come to justice by the end of 1952. And so it was. Twenty-three years afterward Todor Zhivkov said that my uncle ‘died in prison,’ however he did not say that on the night of November 11, 1952 at 12:12 a.m. the four men condemned to death were shot.
I remember how often my uncle had said:
"The shedding of our blood will guarantee a great future for the new church of Bulgaria."
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