We remember Blessed Eugene Bossilkov in the Passionist calendar November 13. A Bulgarian Passionist and bishop he was executed by the Communist regime November 11,1952 after being sentenced at a mock trial in Sophia, Bulgaria. His body was thrown into a lime pit outside the prison; as far as I know it has never been recovered.
His death was not confirmed to the outside world until 1975, when a Bulgarian minister visiting the Vatican was asked by Pope Paul VI what happened to Bishop Bossilkov. The minister confirmed the date and place of his execution. The Communist regime in Bulgaria was known at the time as perhaps the most brutal and secretive of all the Communist controlled countries of Eastern Europe.
Bishop Bosilkov was declared “Blessed” on March 15,1998 in Rome by Pope St. John Paul II, who said he was “a splendid treasure of the church in his motherland. A brave witness of the cross of Christ; he is one of many victims sacrificed by atheistic Communism, in Bulgaria and elsewhere, as it attempted to annihilate the church. In those days of fierce persecution, many looked up to him and from his courageous example gained the strength to remain faithful to the Gospel to the end. I am happy on this joyful day for the nation of Bulgaria to honor so many, like Bishop Bossilhov, who paid with their lives for holding on to the faith they received at baptism.”
I attended Bishop Bossilkov’s beatification and what I recall most was not the impressive ceremonies at the Vatican but the Bulgarians who came for the occasion and stayed at our monastery of Saints John and Paul. They were relatives of the bishop and men and women from the church where he was bishop. Simple ordinary people who had come through hard times in a country emerging from Communism.
His niece, Sister Gabriella Bossilkov, was one of them. She knew him as a little girl; she was with him when he was arrested, attended his trial and visited him in prison before his execution. She described in great detail how they bullied him and lied about him; she remembered what he said when she told him in prison shortly before his death that they were trying to arrange for a pardon. “No,” he told us, “I know the Lord has given me his grace. I am willing to die.”
She brought a blanket and baskets of food to him in prison the days before his death until one day the food basket was returned untouched. “He won’t need that any more,” she was told. When the prison guards finally said he had died and she demanded some proof, they gave her his blood stained shirt, which later at his beatification was the only relic that remained of him.
I’m sure his story will be told more fully when his canonization arrives. Politics and historical circumstances often delay the telling of a story like his. But it will be told. God reveals the glory of his saints, and Bishop Eugene Bossilkov is surely one of them,
His niece said “I remember my uncle saying ‘The stains of our blood will guarantee a great future for the new church of Bulgaria.’”