Coming to terms with the past

The Churches address the communist legacy. A memorial proposed by the Catholic parish priest of Belene " "

25 years have passed since the fall of Communism, but it still casts a dark shadow over some societies of Central and Eastern Europe, and notably in Bulgaria, one of the countries that was most loyal to the USSR, where the process of revision of the past began later compared to other countries that belonged to the Soviet bloc. The topic was the focus of the international conference “Christian churches, the civil community and the communist legacy in the German and Bulgarian experience”, held April 23 to 25 in Sofia with the participation of historians, theologians, philosophers and policymakers from Bulgaria and Germany. “Overcoming the communist past takes long, but it is important for the younger generation to know the truth, even if it may not always be pleasant”, Momchil Metodiev, one of the organizers of the conference, expert in the history of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church during the Communist period, told Sir Europe. Religion and power. According to Metodiev “Christian Churches were direly hit by the communist secret services that sought not only to restrict most of their activities, but also to infiltrate Church hierarchy”. Two years ago, the Commission for the dossier revealed that 11 of the 15 Metropolitans of the Holy Synod collaborated with the communist secret services. “Unfortunately, this issue remains open as the Holy Synod has not taken an official position”, said Orthodox bishop Tihon, archpriest of the patriarchal Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia. According to bishop Tihon “the influence of the Communist secret services is the cause of the schism of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria, which lasted from 1992 to 2012”. “The Church was divided and weak and thereby was unable to take a position in the public arena”, added bishop Tihon. Metodiev pointed out: “The facts contained in the dossier must be viewed against the backdrop of Communist rule: in some cases people were forced to reach compromises, while others benefited from collaboration with the regime”. After the election of the patriarch. “Lately there have been signs of hope and vitality in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, especially in parishes led by young priests”, Metodiev said. In his view, “this process kicked off last year, after the election of the new Patriarch Neofit, confirmed with the election of four new metropolitans in which lay people have made their voices heard”. The German experience. Notably, speakers compared the Bulgarian experience with that of Eastern Germany. “Immediately after World War II, almost all families attended church, while at the end of communism most of East Germany was marked by a de-Christianized society”, said Rainer Eppelman, German Protestant minister and politician. Eppelman also emphasized the contribution of Protestant pastors to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The forced labour camp of Belene. So as not to forget all those who fought against the injustices of the regime, on the initiative of Father Paolo Cortesi, the Catholic parish priest of Belene, on April 26 a committee was set up for the creation of a memorial museum on the island near the city, on the Danube, where stood one of the largest and cruellest camps of forced labour of the Communist regime. “Among the prisoners there were many Orthodox and Catholic priests, Protestant pastors, nuns, Muslims. Their sacrifice compels us as Christians to keep the memory alive to make sure that those horrors will never happen again”, said Father Cortesi. “Many young people today are not even aware of the existence of Communist labour camps in Bulgaria, and hundreds of martyrs are covered by oblivion”, added Metodiev. The Communists tried about 150 Catholics and a dozen were sentenced to death. Among the victims, the Catholic Bishop of Nicopolis, Msgr.Eugene Bossilkov and three Assumptionist priests, who were declared Blessed. Promoting Committee. The diocese of Nicopolis, political authorities, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and former prisoners are members of the Committee for the memorial of Belene. Its promoter, Father Cortesi, is an Italian Passionist missionary, serving in Bulgaria for the past four years. “I live fifty meters away from the camp of Belene and the sight of those abandoned buildings was an inspiration to develop this project”. “We hope – he added – that within the next five years there will be a memorial centre similar to that of Auschwitz or to that in the Solovkij Islands in the White Sea”.

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