- Roman Catholicism in Bulgaria
Roman Catholicismis the third largest religious congregation in Bulgaria, after Eastern Orthodoxyand Islam. It has roots in the country since the Middle Agesand is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Popeand curiain Rome.
As an entity, the Catholic Church consists of two
dioceses in Bulgaria, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sofia and Plovdivwith Seat in Plovdivand the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nikopolwith Seat in Rouse, for those of the Latin Rite, and an exarchatewith its seat in Sofia for those of the Eastern Rite.
Location and number
In the Bulgarian census of 2001, a total of 43,811 people declared themselves to be Roman Catholics, down from 53,074 in the previous census of 1992, due mainly to emigration. The vast majority of the Catholics in Bulgaria in 2001 were ethnic Bulgarians, although 2,500 of them were Turks and additional 2,000 belonged to a number of other ethnic groups.
Bulgarian Catholics live predominantly in the regions of
Svishtovand Plovdiv and are mostly descendants of the heretical Christian sect of the Paulicians, which was converted to Roman Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries. The largest Roman Catholic Bulgarian town is Rakovski in Plovdiv Province. Ethnic Bulgarian Roman Catholics known as the Banat Bulgariansalso inhabit the Central European region of the Banat. Their number is unofficially estimated at about 12,000, although Romanian censuses count only 6,500 Banat Bulgarians in the Romanian part of the region.
Bulgarian Catholics are descendants of three groups. The first one is the group of the Catholics of northwestern Bulgaria, who are successors of Saxon ore miners that settled the area in the
Middle Agesand that gradually became Bulgarian, as well as people from the colonies of the Republic of Ragusain the larger cities. Converted Pauliciansfrom the course of the Osam(between Stara Planinaand the Danube) and from around Plovdivare the second (and largest) group, while the third (and most limited) one is formed by more recent Eastern Orthodoxconverts.
Roman Catholic missionaries first tried to convert the Bulgarians during the reign of Tsar Boris I in the middle of the 9th century. They were unsuccessful, and Boris I led the Bulgarians in their conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. In 1204 the Bulgarian
Tsar Kaloyan(1197-1207) formed a short-lived union between the Roman Catholic Churchand the Bulgarian Orthodox Churchas a political tactic to balance the religious power of the Byzantine Empire. The union ended when Rome declared war on Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Patriarchatewas reestablished in 1235. The Catholic Church had no influence in the Bulgarian Empire after that date.
Nonetheless, Catholic missionaries renewed their interest in Bulgaria during the 16th century, after the
Council of Trent, when they were aided by merchants from Dubrovnikon the Adriatic. In the next century, Vatican missionaries converted most of the Paulicians, the remainder of a once-numerous heretical Christian sect, to Catholicism. Many believed that conversion would bring aid from Western Europein liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.
By 1700, however, the Ottomans began persecuting Catholics and preventing their Orthodox subjects from converting.
After Bulgaria became independent, the Catholic Church again tried to increase its influence by opening schools, colleges, and hospitals throughout the country, and by offering scholarships to students who wished to study abroad. Bulgarian
KnyazFerdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was himself Catholic and supported the Vatican in these efforts. The papal nuncio Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, played a leading role in establishing Catholic institutions in Bulgaria and in establishing diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the Vatican in 1925.
The communist era was a time of great persecution for Catholics, nominally because Catholicism was considered the religion of fascism. Bulgarian communists also deemed Catholicism a foreign influence. Under the communist regimes, Catholic priests were charged with following Vatican orders to conduct antisocialist activities and help opposition parties. In 1949 foreign priests were forbidden to preach in Bulgaria, and the papal nuncio was forbidden to return to Bulgaria. Relations between the Vatican and Bulgaria were severed at that time. During the "Catholic trials" of 1951-52, sixty priests were convicted of working for Western intelligence agencies and collecting political, economic, and military intelligence for the West. Four priests were executed on the basis of these charges. In the early 1950s, the property of Catholic parishes was confiscated, all Catholic schools, colleges, and clubs were closed, and the Catholic Church was deprived of its legal status. Only nominal official toleration of Catholic worship remained.
Like the practitioners of the other faiths, Roman Catholics in Bulgaria enjoyed greater religious freedom after the fall of the Zhivkov regime in 1989. Bulgaria reestablished relations with the Vatican in 1990, and the Bulgarian government invited Pope John Paul II to visit Bulgaria. The visit was carried from 23 to
26 May 2002and was the first visit of an acting Roman pope in the country.
* [http://catholic-bg.org/ Official website of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria]
* [http://www.catolic-gen.com/ Website of the Roman Catholic church in General Nikolaevo, a quarter of Rakovski]
* [http://www.catholic.bg/ruse/site/index.php?lang=en Official website of St Paul of the Cross - a Catholic church in Rousse, Bulgaria]
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