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CATHOLICS IN BULGARIA

Author: Svetlozar Eldarov

 

1. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

1.1. Important historical developments

Catholicism in the Bulgarian lands until 1860

The first attempts for the spread of Christianity into the Bulgarian lands were made by the Bulgarian Prince Boris I under the leadership of the Roman Pope in the middle of the 9th century. Trying to convert his pagan people to Christianity, and in this way to help his two-century-old state join the civilized medieval world, Boris looked towards the two spiritual centers of Christianity at the time - Rome and Constantinople. A letter from a bishop to Pope Nicolaus I from the year 864 testifies that the Bulgarian ruler had promised to accept Christianity from Rome through the mediation of King Ludwig of the Germans. However, due to political reasons, Prince Boris I accepted Christianity from the Patriarch in Constantinople, based in the capital of neighboring Byzantium. In 865, the Bulgarian people officially converted to Christianity.

Faced with a domestic revolt against Christianity with obvious anti-Byzantine sentiments, the Bulgarian ruler tried to improve relations with Rome. In August 866, he sent to the Pope 115 questions on the essence of Christianity and asked him to send some spiritual missionaries to Bulgaria. Following the letter, by the end of the same year, a Pope’s mission led by two bishops arrived in Bulgaria where it worked and propagated Christianity until 870. The Bulgarian ruler was very much impressed by one of the bishops, Formosa of Portuen, and proposed to the Pope to ordain him the head of the Bulgarian diocese. The Pope, however, rejected this proposal, as well as a number of other proposals. Soon after relations with Rome deteriorated. This was especially visible after the Ecumenical Council (879-880), which ultimately attached the Bulgarian Church to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Relations with Rome improved again after the end of the Byzantine rule over the Bulgarian lands (1018-1187) and during the first years of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. In 1199, Pope Inokentius III sent a letter to the Bulgarian Czar Kaloyan, urging him to acknowledge the Pope as the highest spiritual leader. At that time, Czar Kaloyan was politically interested to have his kingdom recognized as independent, something which would not have been possible unless an autocephalous Bulgarian church was recognized. The recognition had to be done either by Rome or Constantinople. Kaloyan’s political maneuvers resulted in a union with Rome. In 1204 a papal missionary to the Bulgarian capital of Tumovo gave him the title of “King” and the Archbishop based there became ‘Primas”.

Some historians argue that the union was an important step in the political and ecclesiastical life of Bulgaria, since it took the country out of its isolation lasting for more than a century and a half due to the Byzantine rule. There are others, however, who say that this step did not have any serious results. Political reasons ‘froze’ the union even more during the rule of Czar Kaloyan. Bulgarians thought of the spiritual head of the Bulgarian Church as a Patriarch, equal to the Patriarch in Constantinople, regardless of the fact that he was called “Primas” by Rome. Undoubtedly, such an attitude was principally different from what Rome had in mind about the Bulgarian spiritual leader. Although this Bulgarian attitude was not shown on the surface of the relations with Rome, it was observed in the actions of the “Primas,” Archbishop Basilius. The notion of a “limited” autocephalous Church was alien to the political leadership in Bulgaria, and this led finally to the 1235 split of the union during the rule of Czar Ivan Assen II.

Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries Rome was trying to win the Bulgarian rulers with no success. In 1235 Pope Inokentius IV sent a letter to the Bulgarian ruler, asking him to unite with Rome. Between 1245-1291, another letter of the Pope, sent via Franciscan monks, also failed to have any impact. In 1337, Pope Benedikt XII wrote a new letter to the Bulgarian Czar Ivan Alexander, which also failed to have any results.

After 1396, when the last of the small and administratively separate Bulgarian lands fell under Ottoman rule, the Catholic Church’s chances to extend its influence over the former Bulgarian territories dwindled even more. Islam was the dominant religion in the Ottoman Empire. Although religions were tolerated during Ottoman times through the millet system, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church lost its autonomy and merged into the Christian millet of the Ottoman empire with the other Orthodox churches. Its head was the Patriarch of Constantinople.

In the 14th and 15th century, Catholicism was spreading in the Bulgarian lands. The first source were the colonies of the Catholic merchants of the Dubrovnik Republic, whose spiritual life was centered in Sofia. A second source were the Catholic mine-diggers coming from Saxony, who settled mainly in the area of the village of Chiprovtsi in northwestern Bulgaria. The mine-diggers melted into the Bulgarian population, but left their traces through making their descendants Catholics.

The foundation for the future active Catholization of the Bulgarian population was laid down by the flourishing of the Pavlikian movement. Back in Byzantine times -around the middle of the 8th century and going on for a few more centuries - Byzantium resettled huge masses of revolting Armenians and Syrians into its western and eastern parts. Those people did not believe in the monotheism preached by Christianity. They were dualists, who believed that the world is based on two principles - the principles of Good and Bad. The baptizing of the Bulgarians in 865 further exacerbated the Pavlikian movement, which was an anti-monotheist reaction. A similar heretic dualist movement, that of the Bogomils, took roots in the Bulgarian lands in the 10th century during the rule of Czar Petar (927-969).
Between the 10th and the 14th centuries, the two heresies developed in a parallel way without losing their own identities. Both of them had their main centers in the geographic regions of Thrace and Macedonia. Under Ottoman rule, Pavlikians constituted a minor part of the population in the Bulgarian lands, but proved to be a very closed and sustainable community. They did not have the environment to spread their heresy, but managed to retain it through teaching their tradition within their families.

In the middle of the 16th century, Rome developed a new policy to spread Catholicism further. It culminated in the 1622 establishment of the Holy Congregation. The latter was supposed to coordinate the efforts of all orders to spread Catholicism globally. In line with the new policy, around 1595 some monks of a Bosnia-based Franciscan order arrived in the Bulgarian lands. Historians agree that their mission paved the way to a new period in the spread of Catholicism to that geographic region. In 1601 the Catholics of Chiprovtsi wrote a letter to the Pope, asking him to ordain one of those monks, Petar Zluitrich (Solinat), as bishop of the Bulgarian lands. Shortly thereafter, he became the first Catholic bishop. He was based in Sofia.

Peter Solinat channeled his efforts in two directions - to support existing Catholicism, building a monastery with a school in Chiprovtsi, and to spread his faith among the Pavlikian population. The latter policy proved to be quite successful over the next centuries. He also sent Bulgarians to study in Rome. These Bulgarians later on became spiritual leaders. Among them were the future Sofia bishops Ilia Marinov and Petar Bodgan (who became archbishop in the middle of the 17th century), archbishop Petar Parchevich and others. Chiprovtsi became the first Catholic stronghold by the end of the 16th century. Throughout the 17th century Catholicism spread further among the Pavlikians and even among some Orthodox Bulgarians beyond that settlement. Thus, by the end of that century, there were already five dioceses in the Bulgarian lands: Sofia (Western Bulgaria), Preslav (Central Bulgaria), Nicopol (Northern Bulgaria), Skopje and Ohrid (Macedonia).

It could be argued that until the end of the 17th century the above mentioned Bulgarian Catholic bishops were active not only in religious matters, but also in cultural and national ones. Their activities showed some Enlightenment features even before Paisii. The History of the Slav-Bulgarian People written by the Bulgarian Orthodox Monk Paisii of Hilendar in 1762 is considered to be the founding stone of the Bulgarian National Enlightenment. It embodies two important elements of modern nationalism - vocabulary of the vernacular, and the theme of the ‘glorious history’.

However, Enlightenment activities were already present outside the Bulgarian lands almost a century earlier. In 1651, the Catholic bishop Philip Stanislavov published in Rome a book-collection Abagar of an apocryphal narrative and some prayers, which included some elements of the modern Bulgarian language. Some scholars say that it was Archbishop Petar Bogdan, who wrote in 1667 the first Bulgarian history. The Vatican library today has only the introduction and the first four chapters of this work. The original is believed to have included 20 chapters. Some data hint that it was printed in Venice, but there is not a single copy preserved.

Catholicism played an important role also during the Chiprovtsi uprising of 1688, which was a major uprising of the Bulgarians against the Ottoman rule. Bulgarian Catholics took an active part in it, believing that the uprising would provoke the Western Catholic states to intervene militarily against the Sultan. By that time the Ottoman troops had been defeated in Vienna and neighboring Belgrade was occupied by the armies of the allied Catholic states - Poland, the Habsburg Empire and Venice.

The Chiprovtsi uprising was suppressed. Afterwards the religious and cultural life of the Catholics in Bulgaria fell into decay. Many of them immigrated northwestwards into the Banat region, which is in present-day Romania. Descendants of those Bulgarians live today in the villages of Old Beshenov, Vinga, Breshtia, Denta, etc. in Romania. Some of them returned to Bulgaria after its liberation from the Ottoman rule in 1878.

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The Uniat Movement and the Catholics of the Eastern Rites between 1860 and 1944

Following Paisii’s history of 1762, Bulgarian nationalism gathered momentum over the 19th century and culminated in the liberation of the Bulgarian state in 1878. Nationalism was initially promoted through secular education, through the creation of the Bulgarian literary language based on the vernacular, through the development of awareness of the Bulgarian history, through journalism, publishing and poetry. In the 1820s, enlightened Bulgarians acknowledged the need for ecclesiastical emancipation from the Greek-dominated Patriarchate in Constantinople. This was considered to be an important step before the final one - the achievement of political independence.

Bulgarians struggled in two ways towards the independence of their Church. The first one was through the Orthodox Church movement led by Bishops Ilarion Makariopolski and Neofit Bozveli. Ultimately, this movement proved to be the successful one, when in 1870, the Ottoman government ended the passionate ten-year dispute between the Patriarchate and the Bulgarians by issuing a firman, which established the Bulgarian autocephalous church, or the Bulgarian Exarchate. However, the way to the Orthodox Church’s independence was paved by the Uniat movement, whose goal was the unification with the Roman Catholic Church. This was the second way in the Bulgarians’ struggle towards church independence.

Dragan Tsankov, a Bulgarian merchant and enlightenment person in Constantinople, was at the head of the Uniat movement. It started after the Crimean war when Russia, the great Orthodox power, was defeated. After this happened, it became clear that the Church movement of Ilarion Makariopolski had reached a deadlock in the negotiations with the Patriarch and the Porte. The Uniat movement surfaced in the spring of 1859 when Tsankov started publishing the pro-Catholic newspaper "Bulgaria". It aimed at showing that the only salvation to the Bulgarian people would come from a union with the Western civilization. It strongly criticized the Greek Orthodox clergy, as well as Russia’s negative position on the question of Bulgarian church independence. Those ideas found fertile soil in the summer of 1859 among the Bulgarians in the towns of Koukoush, Kilkis (in present-day Greece), Doiran and Stroumitsa. Koukoush was the first town to embrace the union. The clergy sent a letter to the Pope, acknowledging his supremacy as a spiritual leader.

Encouraged by Britain and France, Tsankov worked towards a union with the Pope. On December 18, 1860 a delegation of spiritual and secular intelligentsia handed a letter to the apostolic vicar in Constantinople, asking Pope Pius IX for a church union. It stated that the Bulgarian Church would keep its own customs and liturgy, but would recognize the Pope as its highest spiritual leader. That same year the act was sanctioned by the Vatican and the Supreme Porte. The Pope ordained Jossif Sokolski as Archbishop, based in Constantinople. In 1861, the people from the Bulgarian municipality in the imperial city built their own church and opened a school. Initially, this movement had many followers in Constantinople, and took roots also in Odrin, Malko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Kazanluk, Solun, Enidzhe Vardar, and Voden - mainly towns in Thrace and Macedonia. Uniat sentiments grew in some towns of northern Bulgaria as well - Vidin, Tarnovo, Silistra, Shoumen and Svishtov. These, however, were quite weak and faded away soon after their establishment.

The initial success of the Uniat movement was short-lived. This was so because of the wide spread of Orthodoxy in the Bulgarian lands. Nevertheless, it played an important role in the achievement of Bulgarian Church independence.

First, the Uniat movement was important, because the Ottoman government in a special firman from year 1860 officially recognized the existence of the Bulgarian Uniat Catholics. Thus the Bulgarians were recognized as a separate ethno-religious group, different from the Greeks. The motive of the Ottoman government was that the union would limit Russia’s influence on the Bulgarians.

Second, this move pressured Russia to change its negative position towards the issue of Bulgarian Church independence. Initially, Russia was not interested in supporting any splits between Greeks and Bulgarians within the Ottoman Christian millet, which was one of Russia’s strongholds in the Ottoman Empire. But the looming perspective that the Bulgarians may move away from its reach and try to approach the western powers made Russia change its policy. Russia did its best to suppress the growth of the Uniat movement. The 1861 plan for the outrage of Archbishop Sokolski was signed personally by the Russian Czar. He was captured by fraud, transported by a Russian ship across the Black Sea and finally exiled in a monastery close to Kiev (in present-day Ukraine).

Year 1865 saw a new period in the development of the Bulgarian Catholic Church of the Eastern Rites. Rafail Popov was ordained Bishop and Papal Vicar of the Bulgarians of the Eastern Rites in Thrace and Macedonia. He was based in Edirne. His activities were much oriented against the ‘Hellenization’ of the Bulgarian population in those regions, given the fact that the Ottoman government had never allowed the Bulgarian Orthodox Exarchate to place its bishops in Edirne (Thrace) and Thessaloniki (Macedonia).

Between 1883 and 1913 the Bulgarian Uniat Church expanded into three sees - the archbishopric of Constantinople and the bishoprics of Edirne and Thessaloniki. However, with the stabilization of the Bulgarian Exarchate in the 1880s in Macedonia, a trend of reflux from the Uniat Church was observed.

The Uniat Church had expanded beyond the territorial borders of the Principality of Bulgaria (since 1908, the Kingdom of Bulgaria). Bulgaria’s defeat in the Balkan Wars 1912-1913 and in the First World War (1918), as well as the subsequent loss of territories, led to a total catastrophe for the Bulgarian Catholics of the Eastern Rites. During the war years many Bulgarian Catholics of those regions found refuge in Bulgaria.

Drained of followers after the wars, the Bulgarian Uniat Church lost many of its leaders in the early 1920s. The Church needed urgent reorganization. The first step was to unite the remainder of the sees of the bishoprics in Thrace and Macedonia into a single one that was temporarily administered from Plovdiv. The active involvement of the Papal Visitator Archbishop Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli (when he became Pope in 1958, he accepted the name John XXIII) helped overcome these problems. In 1926, he recommended that all remnants of the Uniat community be joined under a single Apostolic Exarchate based in Sofia, uniting only its followers in the Bulgarian territory. Bishop Stefan-Cyrill Kourtev was ordained Apostolic Exarch.

The Bulgarian Uniat Church was treated in a tolerant way during the rule of the Agrarian government of Alexander Stamboliiski (1920-1923). However, during the junta regimes (1923-1926 and 1934-1935), it was subjected to demagogic campaigns and even to repression against the clergy and laity.

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Catholicism of the Latin Rites Between 1878 and 1944

After 1878, the Catholic Church increased its influence, due to several reasons. The first one was the increase of the number of missionaries of the different orders after the Bulgarian liberation. Those who were already present on Bulgarian soil before 1878, such as the Franciscan, Capuchin, Passionist and Resurrection orders, continued their work. Many other missionaries arrived. New churches and schools were built, and many young people were sent to study at Catholic schools abroad. The Catholic Church was the first one to support the victims of the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars through its charity activities.

Another reason is the fact that members of the Catholic dynasty of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha ruled Bulgaria. King Ferdinand of the Bulgarians (Bulgarian Prince 1887-1908 and Bulgarian Czar 1908-1918) belonged to that dynasty and his wife Princess Maria-Louisa was also Catholic. Their son King Boris III (1918-1944) was baptized in the Christian Orthodox religion. In 1930 he married the Italian Princess Jovanna of Savoj, most probably, due to the interests of his dynasty. King Boris III did not act in favor of Catholicism. He did not even keep his initial arrangement with Rome to baptize only his first-born son, the successor to the throne, Simeon, in Christian Orthodoxy, but did so also with his daughter, Maria-Louisa.

The influence of Catholicism of the Latin Rites increased in Bulgaria in the inter-war period, most of all due to the active work of the Papal Visitator Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. During his time in Bulgaria (1925-1935) he helped the Uniat church go out of its spiritual and administrative deadlock. He increased the charity work of the Catholic Church, especially after the destructive earthquake in Chirpan in 1928 and obtained serious financial resources from the Vatican to increase the property of the Catholic Church. Finally, he managed to establish a permanent mission in Bulgaria and thus became an Official Apostolic delegate in 1931.

Furthermore, Roncalli was actively involved in the negotiations on the terms of the marriage of King Boris III. He attached serious religious importance to that marriage, since he developed the fixed idea to subordinate the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to the Pope. His reasoning was based on what he found “religious indifference” of the Bulgarians - they only needed to have Christian clergy, but believed in nothing, so they did not care which way they had to make the sign of the cross. His “overindulgence”, in line with this idea, distanced King Boris III from him, although the King used to consider him a good friend. The common people loved Roncalli.

In 1935 Roncalli’s successor, Juseppe Mazzolli, came in Bulgaria. He was Apostolic Delegate until his death in 1945. Francesco Galloni succeeded him in 1945. Galloni remained in Bulgaria until 1949, when he left the country with the guarantees of the Bulgarian authorities that he would be allowed to return. However, he was denied reentry and the office of the Apostolic delegation was closed down.

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Catholicism during Communism (1944-1989)

After the Second World War, with the accession to power of the Communist regime in September 1944, Bulgaria entered the sphere of political influence of the Soviet Union. With its doctrinal atheism, communism declared religion harmful to the development of a new socialist identity, based on the cleavage of the social classes - workers and bourgeoisie - and not on the cleavages of ethnicity or religion. All religions, including the Orthodox Church, traditional for Bulgaria, suffered restrictions on their activities, closure of religious schools, newspapers and so on.

The Catholic Church suffered more than the Orthodox Church. The fact that the Orthodox Church is a national church - rather than having its center beyond the borders in Rome like the Catholic Church - makes the meddling of the secular state into the church affairs rather easy. Throughout the four decades of Communism, the Orthodox Church, and to a certain extent the Muslims - whose spiritual head is not subordinated to any Muslim center abroad - were infiltrated with pro-Communist loyalists. Thus these religions, if not totally fading away, as was the initial intention, became ‘toothless’ towards the regime. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, as well as the Muslim denomination’s offices received subsidies from the state. The clerics were socially secured and received state pensions. A particular loyalty to the regime was shown in declarations of Muslim clerics that Muslims in Bulgaria enjoy religious freedom. A resolution from an Imam meeting in 1985, for example, went even further by saying that the “Muslim Bulgarians have never belonged to the Turkish nation”.

The principle of worldwide subordination of the Catholic clergy directly to the Pope in Rome does not allow any active involvement of the nation-state into the Catholic Church’s affairs. Therefore, Catholicism was viewed in Sofia, and in Moscow, as Communism’s Enemy № 1 along with American and Western “imperialism”. Thus, while the Communist regime tried to restrict the influence of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but to preserve it for the purposes of its own ‘democratic’ appearance, it aimed at the total liquidation of the Catholic Church.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church played a very important role in the assault on Catholicism in Bulgaria after 1944. This became visible first in the politicized statements of Exarch Stefan I and the Plovdiv Metropolitan Cyril (who later became the Patriarch), who spoke respectively against the “Catholic aggression” and the collaboration of the Catholics with Italian fascism. Furthermore, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church participated in a meeting of all Orthodox Churches from the so-called “Camp of Peace and Democracy” in Moscow (July 8-18, 1948), where the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch were not invited. The existing historical material from that time shows that the Soviet government had initiated the meeting.

The meeting made decisions, directed against the Catholic Church. It was decided that all treaties between the respective countries and the Vatican should be suspended, that all Catholic orders and congregations should be dissolved, and all clergy of foreign origin should leave the countries. All these decisions were soon reflected in the legislation of the respective countries.

Between 1944 and 1949, Catholicism in Bulgaria was subjected to a lot of pressure. With the Collectivization Law of 1948, the lands of the Catholic Church were expropriated. This fact deprived it from its main source of income. The Catholic Church was not subsidized by the state, unlike the Orthodox Church and the Muslims denomination. All Catholic Church’s real estate, except for the churches and chapels - schools, colleges, and hospitals - was expropriated by the state. The activities of the Church, such as charity and teaching, were also monopolized by the state. The 1949 Denominations Act restricted the Catholic Church in its relations with the Vatican and in receiving donations from abroad.

The formal restrictions on Catholicism did not satisfy the Communist regime. In September-October 1952 it launched a series of fabricated trials against some 55 Catholic clerics, who were accused of espionage for Rome within a “plotting espionage organization” based in Bulgaria. In August 1952, the arrested clerics and other outspoken Catholics numbered 70. Held and interrogated in the offices of the State Security Service under inhuman conditions, the clerics were forced to sign papers with their self-accusations. Finally, the Communists managed to ‘reveal’ a complicated network of spies, based in seven espionage centers in Bulgaria and allegedly connected to the apostolic delegates of the Vatican in Bulgaria Guiseppe Mazzolli and Francesco Galoni.

Six people were found guilty of establishing that illegal organization. Four of the accused were sentenced to death and two were imprisoned for 20 years. 32 people were convicted as members of the organization and many of them were sent to jail for 10-15 years. Others were sent to the Communist concentration camps.

These trials were just part of a wide anti-Catholic campaign launched by the Soviet Union. In 1946 the Uniat communities in Yugoslavia’s Croatia and Hungary received the first blows. Romania and Czechoslovakia followed suit in 1948 and 1949, respectively. Between 1949 and 1950, trials, similar to those in Bulgaria, were launched against the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary, Poland, Romania and Albania, and even in China. They aimed not only at hampering the Catholic Church’s activities through eliminating the clergy, but also at discrediting it in the eyes of the population as being subversive to the legitimate Communist power. Thus, the activities of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria were crippled for the next 40 years.

The Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, convened under the guidance of Pope John XXIII (civil name - Guiseppe Roncalli) introduced major changes in the Vatican’s policy concerning the modernization of the Catholic Church’s attitude towards the non-Christian religions globally.

In the first half of the 1960s the majority of the political prisoners, including the convicted Catholic clerics of 1952, were let free and some of them returned to their ecclesiastical duties. Some of them were let free from the prisons earlier than the time envisaged by the court, a move often related to the Second Vatican Council. Most likely, however, the reason was the Communist regime’s willingness to show itself ‘democratic’ in the eyes of the world. In 1963 there was unofficial information spread among political prisoners that the UN will monitor the introduction in practice of conventions that were already signed by Bulgaria. Indeed, between 1944 and 1960, Bulgaria ratified certain human rights conventions. Those were the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (effective for Bulgaria since 1960), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (effective for Bulgaria since 1961), the Convention Against Discrimination in Education (effective for Bulgaria since 1963), the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide (effective for Bulgaria since 1951).

In the 1970s and 1980s, the first steps towards rapprochement between Bulgaria and the Vatican were made. Communist leader Todor Zhivkov and members of his government visited the Vatican and a Vatican archbishop visited Bulgaria in 1976. Few clerics were sent to further their studies abroad and a limited number of Bulgarian researchers were allowed to enter the Vatican archives. In 1972 a Bulgarian cultural center was established in the Vatican. Archimandrite Georgi Eldarov became its administrator. However, all these measures of the Bulgarian Communist state were superficial. The Catholic clerics in Bulgaria lived under a constant threat.

After 1989, a revival of Catholicism was observed in Bulgaria. In 1990 the Catholic Church obtained the status of a juridical person in Bulgaria. Some clauses of the repressive Denominations Act of 1949 were lifted and some foreign clerics arrived in the country to meet the need for educated Catholic clergy. The Catholic newspaper Veritas resumed its work and other Catholic papers appeared in the public space. Few Catholic clerics were again sent to study abroad for their higher education. With a special act of 1992, the Church property was restituted, but everything is still only on paper. In practice, some of the Church-owned buildings are still in the possession of state organizations.

Today, the Catholics are organized in three bishoprics, based in Plovdiv, Rouse (both Latin Rites) and Sofia (Eastern Rites). Their activities are administered by the Bishop’s Conference, which elects its Chair every three years. Their activities are supported mostly by the Catholic Church’s charity organization Caritas, and less by the Abagar Foundation and the Association of the Banat Bulgarians, which are small Bulgarian organizations focused on specific issues.

Catholics in Bulgaria are not well researched. Big loop-holes in the information about them exist in the area of their economic development and their relations with the Orthodox Christians and the other ethnic and religious groups in the country. Historically, the period between 1878 and 1944 is also not well researched. The same holds true for the period between 1952 and 1989.

There may be many reasons for the lack of sufficient information on these topics, but three of them are worth a special mention. First, the Catholic community in Bulgaria seems to not have enough financial resources to support itself. Second, traditionally Catholics have been treated well in Bulgaria, and this has precluded the necessity for deeper research. The same reasoning is behind the third fact, namely that Catholics belong to the Bulgarian nation, and thus do not oppose the majority of Bulgarians in ethnic terms. That is why they are relatively well integrated into the Bulgarian society.

 

Picture 1: Archimandrite Georgi Eldarov on visitation with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican.

(i). Bulgarian Cultural Center was established in the Vatican in year 1972 under the guidance of Archimandrite Georgi Eldarov. Despite the fact that the Bulgarians were involved in the scandal with the attempted assassination of the Pope in the 1980s, nevertheless this event did not deteriorate the position of the catholic community in the country.

 

 

Copyright © 2007 by the author.