Focus 2008

Bulgaria2008 - CEP01-01-2008

Project: Salesian Mission in Bulgaria
Date: April 1994
Place: Kazanlak
Province: CEP (Republic of Czech)

1. History of the Salesian Mission in Bulgaria

Pope John Paul II wanted the Salesians, after the fall of communism to be in all the Balkan countries. Since Czech Salesians after the fall of communism there in 1989 had no mission territory, the Rector Major, Fr Egidio Viganò asked the CEP-Prague Province in 1993 to take up Bulgaria, as its mission territory. The first Salesians arrived in Bulgaria in April 1994 and were welcomed into the diocese in the Byzantine Rite. The provincial at the time (1993-1999), Fr Benno Beneš became a fervent promoter and animator for the Bulgarian mission, and up until now remains the Provincial Delegate for mission animation.

The mission began in the city of Kazanlak, where the Byzantine Rite Catholic community had already been without a priest for 40 years. The first three Salesians began working in the parish and began building the Church and the community residence. All the confreres belong to two rites, Latin and Byzantine (Catholic). Kazanlak is right in the centre of Bulgaria in the ‘Valley of roses’. It is known from the history of the Thracians. In Kazanlak and surrounds one finds hundreds of Thracian tombs. SO our work began in this city, with its military industries, atheistic population, and decades without a Catholic community. The pastoral ministry has expanded to the nearby cities of central Bulgaria.

2. Salesian presence at the centre of the Catholic community in Bulgaria

During the communist era both Orthodox and Catholics were persecuted systematically. Hundreds of priests and monks - Orthodox martyrs, and five Catholic martyrs now beatified (during the visit by Pope John Paul II to Bulgaria in 2002) were witnesses of fidelity to Christ the Lord over the period 1949 - 1989. Catholics now are but 1% of the Bulgarian population (7.5 million inhabitants, decreasing annually by 50,000), divided into 2 Latin Rite dioceses and one of Byzantine Rite, with around 65 priests, most of them Religious - missionaries from the East. Beyond some almost entirely Catholic villages near Plovdiv or in the mountains, almost all the Church in Bulgaria is in a diaspora. Patient ministry with a small flock, an effort to re-express the Faith in a setting which there is much prejudice against religion - following the concentrated efforts of atheistic education - some beginnings of social commitment, and a culture of a smallish Church - these are the typical features to be found there.

Now in Bulgaria there are seven (7) Salesians from the Czech Republic. Much of their work is around Kazanlak - where they have charge of 5 Parishes in the diaspora - Kazanlak, Stara Zagora, Gabrovo, Jambol e Pravdino. The confreres first spent nearly ten years rebuilding the Church, half destroyed, and finding all the materials needed for worship. It was a patient work of refounding the Church, and constant daily education to faith for the little flock. So for the first decade confreres were engaged in material rebuilding - churches, oratories, religious house, presbyteries - all completely destroyed during communism.

There is a daily oratory in Kazanlak attended by around 50 youngsters made up of Catholic, Orthodox and non-believers. Other than sports activities, some clubs are open during the weekend. The oratory apostolate is tied to formation of leaders, once a week. From 2007 the first Salesian Cooperator Centre formation has began.

Other activity consists of youth ministry at diocesan level (Byzantine Rite dioceses cover the entire area of Bulgaria, with Bishop Christ Proykov based in Sofia - the capital), where we organise various meetings - retreats for young people, young people meeting the bishop, parents meetings, leader formation, summer camp for young Catholics.

The seven Czech confreres in Bulgaria are the only missionaries ad gentes outside of their own nation. For this simple reason alone, mission animation in a province without much experience of mission work has up till now been concentrated entirely on Bulgaria. At a cultural (Slav nations), and historical (during the communist era it was a destination for clandestine religious activities) and religious level (the mission of Sts Cyril and Methodius in in the Slav language), there are many bonds between the two countries. Many Salesian Cooperators, volunteers and confreres have visited Bulgaria over the past 15 years. One expression of mutual enrichment has been the many icons made by Bulgarian Orthodox artists at Cvetkova - the famous crucifix in use during the 2000 Jubilee Year at the Colosseum during ecumenical functions, and lots of Salesian icons too.

3. The future for the Salesians

The presence of seven confreres offers possibilities of expansion. Thanks to visits of animation and encouragement by the Rector Major Fr Pascual Chavez (June 2004), Fr Vaclav Klement (November 2005), Fr Albert Van Hecke (November 2006), Fr Francis Alencherry (April 2007) and helped by experts from VIS - Italy (President Mr Massimo Zortea and volunteers) a well-defined development is in place for a new broader-based work in the provincial city of Stara Zagora (180,000 ), about 40 kilometres from Kazanlak. In one suburb there are around 30 thousand gypsies. The project foresees the establishment of a second community of 3 confreres in Stara Zagora before 2007 concludes, the development of a master plan for the project - in dialogue with local authorities. Under consideration: an Oratory-Youth Centre for Gypsy youth, a family-home for children coming out of State-run orphanages with a small technical centre (80% are of Gypsy background) and work with families in the suburb. The Gypsies are a numerous and socially weak sector of Bulgarian society (at least 15%), usually living apart from the rest of the population in suburbs or villages.

As well as this project, there are some young leaders working alongside the Salesians who are interested in a vocational possibility. The presence of two young Czech mission volunteers from the Cagliero Movement in Prague offers a chance of vocational discernment for committed young people.

The confreres are open to accepting some confreres of other nationalities, to increase their missionary experience and the dynamics, and are looking for at least one Salesian Brother - in order to show the complete face of Don Bosco. The effort to make the Congregation visible at a social level continues with the first web page in three languages: Bulgarian, Czech and English and the recently first NGO, ‘Don Bosco Foundation’, registered with the civil authorities in October 2007.

  La comunità - Salesiani di Don Bosco
Pejo Javorov 13
6100 Kazanlak, Bulgaria
Tel: 00359-431-62115
Web site: