“I just can’t explain what’s going on inside me; it’s affecting my nerves, most of all because I must keep silent and keep up a strong front so that the others don’t lose courage. There’s no way of knowing how it’s all going to end… We’re being followed more than ever and I can’t take a step without my ‘guardian angel’ always at my heels. What a feeling! What a hell of a life! Where will it all lead?…
“I’m counting on your prayers and if it comes to the worst, let it come! I have the courage to live, I hope to have the courage to suffer the worst, remaining ever faithful to Christ, the Pope and the Church! Meanwhile, pray always, jugiter (continuously)!… Thank them (the religious community in Holland) for their many prayers. Be sure to thank them and ask them to continue to pray.”
Thus wrote Bl. Bishop Eugene Bossilkov, C.P.to his Provincial in Holland in February 1949. This heroic statement gives us insight into Bl. Eugene’s humanity and the path God took him on to be divinized into Christ Crucified.
This Friday, Novemeber 13, we celebrate the life and death of our Passionist Bishop – Blessed Eugene Bossilkov, C.P. His life and times are not far removed from ours, having lived from 1900 – 1952. May this heroic man who is now experiencing the resurrection pray for us!
The following is a moving testimony given by his niece Sr. Gabriella Bossilkov
My legal name is Rafaela. I’m the daughter of Athanasius Bossilkov, brother of the bishop. I always remember my uncle with great emotion and gratitude, because my life was so bound to his. When I thought that the Lord was calling me to the religious life, I spoke to my uncle Eugene, to ask his advice. He was then pastor of Bardarski Gheran. On the 18th of December, 1940, I entered the sisterhood in Sophia.
I saw my uncle frequently in the Oriental Institute. September 19, 1944, Russian troops occupied Bulgaria and I went to my home, to Belene. Again I saw my uncle. October 7, 1947 he was ordained a bishop, in Russe.
What was your uncle, the bishop, like during those difficult years? He was a learned man. I don’t know how many languages he spoke. He was very clear about the intentions of the communists in Bulgaria: they wanted to entice the priests and bishops to separate the Bulgarian Catholic Church from Rome.
Did they offer him anything? They promised him a car, a chalet, a lot of money. My uncle always turned them down.
Do you remember how he was arrested? Sister Celina and I were working for a few days on the property that Monsignor Galloni had bought, outside Sophia. My uncle came there in the summer, to rest for a few weeks. When he came in the summer of 1952, he said that in Plovdiv, the diocese with the largest number of Catholics, many priests were arrested.
In the beginning of July two agents of the secret police arrived and searched the house, but did not arrest him. July 16th, at 7 A.M., seven agents came. They came to the window of his room. He invited them in and called us two sisters. A policeman told us: “You two sit here and wait.”
Meanwhile, three policemen searched the house, which was on one floor and had no electricity, from top to bottom. They searched for three hours. They were looking for guns, a radio-transmitter, propaganda. They looked everywhere, even the sacristy, and showed no respect for the consecrated Hosts there. At 9 AM they told my uncle he was arrested.
What did you do then? From July 16th to September 29th we had no news of him. The evening before the trial, they told us we should bring him something to eat in the middle of the day while the trial was going on.
And what do you recall from those days? The sessions (mock trials) took place in the morning and afternoon, open sessions. Sister Cecilia and I went every day. Three Assumptionist priests were tried with my uncle. The trial lasted until October 3rd. They tried everything to have him break his ties with Rome. They accused him of being a spy for the Vatican and the capitalist countries. During the trial they tortured them in every way. They tried to have the four of them sign a statement against the Pope.
Were you able to meet your uncle and speak to him during the trial? Tuesday, September 29, we greeted one another in the room, from a distance. The four of them were very weak. My uncle saw us and waved a greeting. The next day, he met us in public, and thanked us for the food we brought, especially the coffee. Wednesday, at the end of the first session, they let us speak to him for 15 minutes. My uncle said: “What do the people think? Do they believe what they are saying about us?” The lies and calumnies going around bothered him. (The communists had published false accusations agains him on the front page of the newspaper.) We told him that some lawyers had come to his defense. That seemed to calm him.
Then he said: “Do you know anything about Father Fortunato?” He was the superior of the Capuchins in Sophia. We told him he had died a natural death. “No,” he answered, “They killed him.” He told us he had spoken to an agent who said to him: “Bossilkov, do you want to go and see what happened to Fortunato. You can see what you can happen to you.” ” No,” he told him, “I’ve heard enough already.” My uncle, being in the next cell, had heard him crying out in pain. He asked us not to go back to Russe, but to stay in Sophia. He blessed us, asking that we pray for him.
On Friday, October 3rd, the last day of the mock 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 only from a distance. But on Tuesday, October 6th, the two of us went to the prison. They made us wait. There were a lot of people there. Those condemned to death were saying goodbye to their relatives. About noon, they called out: “Are there any relatives of Eugene Bossilkov?” Then my uncle appeared. When we went to him, we told him we were trying to get a pardon. “No,” he told us, “I know that the Lord had given me his grace. I am willing to die.” We started to cry, but he told us. “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 next day we brought him everything he asked, and we kept on till November 18th. We brought him things in a little basket, which they returned to us empty, with a receipt. On November 18th the basket was given back to us full. Then we knew something awful had happened.
We ran to the central prison. They would only leat me in, since I was a relative. I was questioned by three people. “What do you want?” “I came to get some news about my uncle, the Catholic bishop of Russe, who was condemned about a month ago. I sent him some things…November 18th the basket was returned to me full. What’s happened?” They answered, ” All right, we’ll tell you.” They took a pencil and wrote on a piece of paper: “Eugene Alois Dobrev Bossilkov, shot on November 11th, 1952.” I cried, “But that’s not my uncle! Dobrev isn’t his name.” The policeman answered me: “You’re stupid. Here in prison we give people more names; we baptize them again.” “All right,” I said, “give me the paper for proof.” I told them my uncle had a signet ring, eyeglasses, a watch, a wallet. “We sent the ring to his address. Buscalo in Russe. Glasses? Don’t you know that somebody condemned needs them up to the end? And why do you want the other things, to sell them?” he said. Then he insulted me. “You’re stupid, ignorant…”
“Tell me at least, where is he buried?” “There’s a place where criminals like your uncle are buried. It’s not marked. But if you want, to make you feel better, go to the main cemetery; there’s a section in the back that they call ‘the white crosses.’ Maybe you’ll find your uncle’s name on one of them. Would you like to have your uncle’s clothes?” “Yes,” I told him. He brought me to a big room and told me to wait. Until then I felt strong and brave, but when the agent brought me the bag that we used to bring him blankets, and I saw his cassock, and a bloody shirt, and other things, I started to cry and to sob. Then the policeman said to me: “Don’t cry, he was very good, very good.” I put the clothes in the bag, and he took me to the door, where Sister Cecilia was waiting. We went back home.
The next day we went to the cemetery, but we found nothing. Liars! We went to the office looking for a death certificate, but they turned us down. Because of that so many rumors started: that my uncle was living, that someone met him in a concentration camp, that he was exiled to Siberia. I knew very well that Stalin had ordered all those deaths in 1952. That’s what happened. Twenty three years later, Todor Zhivkov said that my uncle had died in prison, but he didn’t say that on the night of November 11th about 12:00 P.M. the four of them were shot. I remember my uncle saying: “The stains of our blood will guarantee a great future for the new church of Bulgaria.”
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.