This past May 24 the new altar of the Latin-rite
Catholic chapel of Yambol was consecrated.
This was a very important event for the Catholic
Church of Bulgaria. Its significance was underlined by the presence of
Bishops Gheorghi Iovtchev and Christo Proicov, bishops respectively of the
Latin Catholic diocese of Sofia-Plovdiv and of the Catholic Exarchate of
the Byzantine rite.
May 24 is a national holiday in Bulgaria, commemorating Bulgarian culture
and writing; and, of course, at the same time, Saints Cyril and Methodius
are remembered since they were at the origins of both. In this country,
culture and religion are inseparable. Saints Cyril and Methodius, the
first evangelizers of the Slavic peoples, are the most prestigious
examples of Bulgarian national and cultural identity.
St. Cyril, in particular, was the one who contributed decisively to the
elaboration and the diffusion of the alphabet which still to this day
bears his name and is used in several countries of Eastern Europe.
Yambol certainly holds an important place in the Assumptionist history in
Eastern Europe. The newly consecrated altar is located in a chapel built
by our fathers at the beginning of our mission in Eastern Europe, a few
years after the opening of the renowned St. Augustine College in
Philippopolis (Plovdiv today). Actually, the foundation of the Assumption
in Yambol was undertaken by the Oblate Sisters in 1888 and shortly
thereafter they invited the fathers to join them, because there were no
Catholic priests. When the fathers first arrived, in the entire town,
which numbered some 14,000 residents, there was only one Latin rite
The account of Fr. Barthélemy Schichkov in1908 recounts the very
interesting early history of the Assumptionists in these lands (see
account of Fr. Barthélemy Schichkov).
Fr. Joseph Schichkov, one of our three Bulgarian martyrs, served as the
first superior of Saints Cyril and Methodius Minor Seminary in Yambol
until 1937. He was also pastor of the Latin-rite parish and chaplain to
the Oblate Sisters.
It was also here in 1952, during the Communist regime, that Bishop
Methodius Stratiev was arrested. The last Assumptionist to be pastor of
the Catholic parish in Yambol was Fr. Gorazd Kurtev who assumed this duty
for twenty-five years before being named, in 1993, pastor of the
Byzantine-rite parish of the Ascension of the Lord in Plovdiv, while also
becoming the superior of the Assumptionist community, which had re-opened.
As at the other sites of Assumptionist foundations, there were at Yambol
two chapels for worship: one for the Latin Rite and one for the Byzantine
Rite. This latter was the one used more as is the case today.
Today the parish is served by the Salesian Fathers. Father Anton, a
Salesian of Slovak origin, is the new pastor and celebrates Mass daily in
the Byzantine Rite and once a month in the Latin Rite.
This past May 24 Assumption was well represented with Fathers Daniel and
Claudio and Sisters Ana and Daniela. It was pleasant to see in the
renovated chapel an icon in memory of our three martyrs and of the
Passionist bishop, Most Rev. Bossilkov. Filling the small chapel
completely, a hundred or so faithful witnessed the consecration of the new
Today from the old building complex there remains only two chapels and the
minor seminary building; the sisters’ house has been demolished and the
Together with Fr. Blagovest, vicar general of the Byzantine Catholic
diocese, who had been the pastor of the Catholic parish in Yambol from
1993 to 1995, we visited the village cemetery where many Assumptionists
and Oblates are buried.
That sunny, warm afternoon we were plunged into the history of our
beginnings here. For a long time Yambol was an “Assumptionist town” and
maintains even to this day many souvenirs of our fathers’ presence.
In this town one has the impression of breathing better than elsewhere;
one has the impression of breathing truly with both lungs of the Church.
Transaltion of John Frank AA