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Catholic Heroes… Blesseds Kamen Vitchev, Pavel Djidjov, And Josaphat Chichkov

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At the end of World War II, the USSR took control of countries in Eastern Europe. The governments were led by Communists who were great enemies of organized religion, especially the Catholic Church. As conditions worsened, the persecution and suppression of the Catholic Church increased in its severity.
In November 1952, the Bulgarian government, after a puppet trial, executed 40 “enemies of the state” under the shroud of darkness. The actual events were not revealed until many years later after Pope St. John Paul II precipitated the fall of the Iron Curtain. Among the persons executed were three priests: Kamen Vitchev, Pavel Djidjov, and Josaphat Chichkov.

Kamen Vitchev

In Srem, near Topolovgrad, Bulgaria, a peasant family had a baby on May 23, 1893. They belonged to the Eastern Rite Church and were most devout, having their baby baptized quickly with the name Peter.
Peter received an early education near Srem and then entered the grammar school in Kara-Agatch in 1903. Kara-Agatch was located about 125 miles east of Srem on the Black Sea. Peter studied there until 1907 when he moved to Phanaraki, a suburb of Istanbul, where he lived for two years, continuing his education with the Augustinians of the Assumption.
He received his habit on September 8, 1910 on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He made his final vows in 1912 in Gemp, Belgium.
After six more years of ecclesiastical studies, he was appointed professor of philosophy, literature, and theology in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. He also served as rector and prefect of studies of St. Augustine College. Subsequently, he went to Istanbul where he taught at the high school seminary.
Kamen returned to Louvain to complete his preparation for the priesthood and was ordained in the Eastern Rite on December 22, 1921 in Kadikoy, a suburb of Istanbul.
Shortly after his Ordination, he began teaching theology in Kadikoy, continuing until 1925. As a teacher, his students and his colleagues held him in high esteem both for his intelligence and skill as an educator and even more so for his virtue. To those who had the least, he gave the most, guiding them in their studies if they found the curriculum challenging and directing them spiritually if needed.
His next assignment was in Rome and Strasbourg where he studied theology and earned his doctorate. He then returned to Plovdiv where he again taught at the College of St. Augustine becoming the college rector, dean of studies, and lecturer in philosophy.
Life became much more difficult in 1948 when the Communists closed the school on August 2. With the school shut, Fr. Kamen was reassigned to be superior of the Seminary of Plovdiv. When the government increased its persecution of the Church by expelling all foreign religious, Kamen was appointed provincial vicar of the remaining 20 Bulgarian Assumptionists.
These men staffed five Eastern Rite and four Latin Rite parishes. Fr. Kamen, observing the animosity the Communists had for religion, knew there was more trouble brewing: “The Iron Curtain becomes increasingly thick, without doubts, they are preparing dossiers on Catholic priests.”
Fr. Kamen was especially scrutinized because of his connections with the French and the Belgians, and also because of his trips to the Vatican. In addition, given his great interest in his country’s history, he had written several articles about Bulgaria. These were all harmless endeavors, but the civil authorities did not concern themselves with justice.
On July 4, 1952, Kamen Vitchev was arrested by the ruling Communists. His colleagues and friends did not know what had become of him until his name was published on a list of “40 enemies of the state” on September 16, 1952, telling them that he was in prison.

Pavel Djidjov

Pavel was born July 19, 1919 in Plovdiv to Latin Rite Catholics who baptized him with the name Joseph. As a child, Joseph attended the St. Andrew’s School, an Assumptionist institution, until he was 11 years old.
From 1931 to 1938, Joseph attended the College of St. Augustine and then on October 2, 1938 he entered the Assumptionist novitiate of Nozeroy, in the Jura, France, taking the name Pavel. He also made his final vows on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary in 1942. His outgoing personality and athletic ability suited him well to work with youth. However, illness necessitated his returned to Bulgaria where he continued his studies.
On January 26, 1945 Pavel was ordained a priest in the Plovdiv Cathedral. His first assignment was in Varna on the Black Sea. He taught as he also continued to study the sciences and business management.
When Fr. Kamen became rector of the College of St. Augustine, Fr. Pavel joined him there and served as treasurer, putting his knowledge of business to good use. He stayed there until the school was closed.
In 1949, Fr. Pavel was appointed treasurer of the Bulgarian Assumptionists. Since they had no money as a result of government policies, Fr. Pavel tried to raise money from the French Assumptionists, leading to his arrest as a spy. His outspokenness about the persecutions led him to write just before his arrest, “May God’s will be done. We await our turn.”
He also was arrested as an enemy of the state on July 4, 1952.

Josaphat Chichkov

An older priest, Fr. Josaphat was born on February 9, 1884 in Plovdiv to a Latin Rite Catholic family with many children. At his Baptism, his parents gave him the name Robert Matthew.
From 1893 to 1899 Robert studied at the Kara-Agatch school near the Black Sea. Then he entered the minor seminary of the Assumptionists in the same city when he was only nine years old. When he began his novitiate on April 29, 1900, he took the name Josaphat.
He proved a man of many talents and began teaching when he was only 17 years old. The next year he went to Varna where he began his writing career and directed the band. Two years later he was sent to Louvain, Belgium to study theology and philosophy. While in Belgium, he was ordained a priest on July 11, 1909 at Malines in the Latin Rite.
He returned to Bulgaria to teach at the Augustine College in Plovdiv. After this he taught briefly at St. Michael College and then became superior of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Yambol. During his tenure there he expanded the seminary to accommodate 30 seminarians of both rites. One week he would celebrate the Mass in Latin and the next he would celebrate in Slavonic.
He organized collection campaigns to support the seminary and arranged conferences featuring Bishop Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII). In addition to writing articles in the The Pilgrim, a magazine for Catholic Bulgarians, he founded a club for students of Advanced Business Studies. This club, the St. Michael French-Bulgarian Circle, had more than 150 members.
In 1949 he began serving as a parish priest in Varna, remaining until his arrest, encouraging his fellow priests to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His name was also on the list of enemies of the state published on September 16, 1952.
The three priests were severely beaten and convicted at a sham trial on October 3 and executed on November 11, 1952 near midnight. The event was kept secret until the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Pope John Paul II beatified the three in 2002. Their feast is on November 11.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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