The precious heritage of the martyrs

Memory of Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Protestants killed by the regime. From their blood comes "a radiant future for Europe"" "

Hundreds of Orthodox priests, dozens of Protestant pastors and Catholic priests, nuns and lay people: they lived and suffered together, imprisoned in the lager on the island of Belene by the Communist regime that could not allow God’s authority to exceed that of the party. Some have not even made it to the camps, such as the four blessed Catholics: the Bishop of Nicopolis, Msgr. Eugenio Bossilkov, and the three Assumptionist priests – Pavel Dzidzov, Kamen Vichev and Josaphat Scisckov -, sentenced to death and shot in front of the prison of Sofia in the night of 11 November 1952. To them and to the thousands of innocent people imprisoned, humiliated and destroyed because they were considered “enemies of the people “, was dedicated the celebration of the martyrs entitled “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”, held in Belene November 15. The choice of sacrifice. “Faith and spirituality were among the favourite targets of the communist regime”, said President Rossen Plevneliev in his speech during the round table “Witnesses to the faith during the Communist regime”, as part of the celebration of the martyrs. The rage against Catholics and Protestants was particularly strong because the leaders of these confessions were abroad. “Thus in 1952 were staged various trials against representatives of the Catholic Church”, recalled the President. Some forty people were arrested. Among them figured bishop Bossilkov, 27 priests and a nun. They were charged with “spying in favour of imperialist forces” and of “carrying out actions against the power of the Communist party”. “Blessed Bossilkov could have prevented death by staying in Rome, as many suggested him to, or he could have accepted the proposals of the regime that wanted him at the helm of a patriotic Catholic Church”, said Father Walter Gorra, parish priest of the cathedral “St. Paul of the Cross” in Russe. “But he didn’t – he went on -; he wished to give his own life for his flock”. Mons. Bossilkov was subjected to atrocious tortures to force him to sign false confessions. But he did not surrender and finally declared: “I remained faithful to the Pope and to the Church!” Discrediting Christian Churches. “The purpose of these trials was to defame the shepherds of Christian churches and intimidate the faithful”, said President Plevneliev, “the consequences of these repressions are also seen today, as society has high expectations from the Church”. Mons. Hristo Proykov, President of the Bulgarian Bishops’ Conference, shared his personal recollections of the time: “The fear in my parents’ eyes”, “the priests whom I knew and who suddenly disappeared”, “the parish church that was shut down for a long time with a policeman standing outside the door”. Unfortunately we still don’t know where the executed Catholic martyrs were buried – he sadly remarked -. Communists refused to reveal it”. In his opinion “if today Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants honour the memory of the martyrs of the regime it means that God always has the last word in history”. The ecumenism of martyrs. “The blood of the martyrs gave strength to the Church under Communism”, underlined Fr Zoran Mamuchevski, Orthodox priest in the diocese of Veliko Tarnovo. He recalled “the martyrs of the Orthodox Church, that include 300 priests killed in the lagers”. He added: “The suffering brought together representatives of different religions”. According to Father Paolo Cortesi, rector of the shrine “Blessed Eugene Bossilkov”, in the camps was practiced the ecumenism of the martyrs, the most convincing”. “Behind barbed wire they dreamed of the freedom to live in peace together, but also of a better Bulgaria”. Reconciling with the past. In fact, the last words of Blessed Bossilkov were: “The furrow of our blood will deliver a bright future for the Church in Bulgaria and others will reap what we have sown with our suffering”. For father Cortesi “to build this future we must be reconciled with the past, but we must also create centers of research and documentation to enable young people to cross the bridge of the past to return as better persons in the present. “The rector of the shrine launched the idea of converting one of the wards of the camp of Belene, into a “memorial dedicated to the victims of totalitarianism, through the collaboration between the Christian churches and civil institutions”. The Bulgarian martyrs were beatified by Pope John Paul II: Msgr. Bossilkov in 1998 in Rome and the three Assumptionist priests during the visit of the Pope in Bulgaria.

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