For years a portrait of this Passionist Bishop hung on the wall of the first corridor in the Passionist Motherhouse of Saints John and Paul in Rome. The portrait had been executed for Father Eugene’s consecration as Bishop in 1947. He was appointed for the Diocese of Nicopolis, one of the four Latin Dioceses in Bulgaria. Every time someone passed the portrait during the 1950s and 1960s, they wondered if Eugene were still alive.
He had been arrested in 1952 by the Communist government. A series of trials were held behind closed doors and it was known that Bishop Bossilkov was to receive a death sentence. No one knew whether or not it was carried out. It was the intention of the Communist leader, Marshall Josip Broz Tito to set up Bishop Bossilkov as leader of a schismatic national church. The Bishop was arrested in the garden of his brother’s home. His niece who witnessed the arrest was a religious sister. She reported that he remained calm and offered no resistance. He told her to, “Be at peace. This is God’s will and all will work out well.”
Official notification of his execution did not come until 1975 when Tito visited Pope Paul VI and the Pontiff asked him, “Where is Monsignor Bossilkov?” “He’s dead,” came the reply. It was later learned that he had been executed on November 11, 1952. Some bloodstained clothes were returned to his family, along with his pectoral cross. In December, his niece had brought him a basket of food that was refused at the gate of the prison. By that gesture, she intuitively knew that he had been shot. By June of 1953 the Blessed Ildefonse Schuster, then the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, revealed that someone from within the Bulgarian government had disclosed the torture and death of the Bulgarian prelate, but he was quick to add that it was just a rumor.
Bishop Bossilkov was baptized Vincent at his birth on November 16, 1900. In 1919 he made his Passionist novitiate at Ere in Belgium, taking the name of Eugene of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He had a brilliant academic career as a seminarian and young priest. He studied in Rome and wrote the definitive work: The Union of the Bulgarians of the Church of Rome at the Beginning of the XIII Century. In 1931 he returned to Bulgaria. The Diocese of Nicopolis was essentially run by the Passionists. He served them both as priest and secretary to the Bishop. Pope John Paul II commemorated him twice. Once was on the occasion of his beatification in 1998 when he called him “the brightest glory in Bulgaria’s Church.” In 2000 when Pope John Paul celebrated the Jubilee Year for the Martyrs of the Twentieth Century, he selected Bishop Bossilkov as the first martyr to be highlighted and claimed that his courage was found in the Passionist tradition with its contemplative spirituality.
- Father Jerome M. Vereb, C.P.