At Plovdiv, on Sunday, 26 May, the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Father beatified three Assumptionist priests (Augustinians of the Assumption), Kamen Vitchev, Pavel Djidjov and Josaphat Chichov as martyrs for the faith. As the Communist archives now reveal, their martyrdom took place at the hands of a firing squad on 11 November 1952 at 11: 30 p.m. in the central prison of Sofia, Bulgaria. With them the Passionist Bishop of Nicopoli, Blessed Eugene Bossilkov was also shot. Fr Kamen Vitchev was ordained for the Eastern Rite, Frs Pavel Djidjov and Josaphat Chichov were ordained for the Latin Rite. All three were known for their talents in the field of the education of the young, ability to generate vocations, and one showed great skill in the the formation of future priests and religious. They also knew how to write and placed articles in Catholic and other magazines. They were also friends of the Apostolic Visitator of the time, Archbishop Roncalli, now Blessed John XXIII. On account of their influence, they were singled out by the Communists for special attention. Their example of faith and constancy in the face of suffering and imprisonment are well remembered by their students (Catholics, Orthodox, Jews and Muslims alike), parishoners, the religious who knew them, and by their prison companions.
Kamen Vitchev (1893- 1952)
Kamen Vitchev was born in Strem, Diocese of Thrace (department of Bourgas) in Bulgaria on 23 May 1893. His parents belonged to the Eastern Rite Church. He was baptized Peter. He attended school in Strem and in 1903 was accepted into the grammar school of Kara-Agatch in Adrianopoli where he continued his studies until 1907, when he moved to Phanaraki (on the outskirts of Istanbul) and remained there until 1909. On 8 September 1910 he began his novitiate with the Augustinians of the Assumption (Assumptionists) in Gemp and received the name "Kamen". He made his final profession in 1912 in Limperzberg. He began his ecclesiastical studies that same year and in 1918 he was made professor at the College of St Augustine in Plovdiv and then at the Little Seminary of Koum Kapou in Istanbul. In 1920 he returned to Louvaine to complete his studies and the following year he was made professor of theology in Kadiköy where he taught until 1925. On 22 December 1921 at Kadiköy (a suburb of Istanbul), he was ordained priest in the Eastern Rite.
In 1927 he went to Rome and Strasbourg to continue his studies and in 1929 he obtained a doctorate in theology. In 1930 he went back to the College of St Augustine in Plovidiv, Bulgaria, where he was eventually college rector, dean of studies, and lecturer in philosophy until the Communists closed the school on 2 August 1948. Fr Kamen had a seemingly "severe" nature, and he governed with authority; his students, however, had a deep respect for him. He did much for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, and welcomed to the school all believers without distinction; Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Jews and Muslims lived together in perfect harmony.
He was often asked to give lectures on issues regarding young people and social life. He wrote articles for the magazine Istina and for the "Review of Byzantine Studies". He also published numerous articles for scientific newspapers and magazines, using different "pen-names". In 1948, when the college was closed by the government authorities, Fr Kamen was named superior of the Seminary of Plovdiv. In 1948 when all foreign religious were expelled from Bulgaria, he was appointed Provincial Vicar of the Bulgarian Assumptionists. There were twenty of them; they staffed five Eastern Rite parishes and four Latin parishes. In a letter sent to the Superior General, Fr Kamen foresaw a terrible future: "The Iron Curtain becomes increasingly thick, without doubt, they are preparing dossiers on Catholic priests ... ". On 4 July 1952 he was arrested, accused of heading a Catholic conspiracy against the State. There was no news of his whereabouts until on 20 September when the newspapers published an accusation against a list of 40 people condemned as "spies for the Vatican and the French and conspirators, seeking to foment an imperialist war against the USSR, Bulgaria and the Popular Democracies". Fr Kamen was on this list as the organizer of the conspiracy.
Pavel Djidjov (1919 - 1952)
Pavel Djidjov was born on 19 July 1919 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, of Latin Rite parents. His baptismal name was Joseph. From 1926-1930 he attended the Assumptionist St Andrew's School. From 1931-1938 he continued his studies at the College of St Augustine in Plovdiv. On 2 October 1938, he entered the Assumptionist novitiate of Nozeroy, Jura, France, where he took the name of Pavel.
On 8 September 1942 he made his final vows. He was an outgoing young man, athletic and practical with a good sense of humour. He dedicated most of his time to the education of young people. After his vows, he had to return to Bulgaria because of illness, and remained there doing his theology studies outside of class. He was ordained a priest for the Latin Rite on 26 January 1945 in the Cathedral of Plovdiv. He moved to Varna, on the Black Sea, where he taught and continued his studies in business management and social sciences. He was made treasurer of the College of St Augustine when Fr Kamen was rector and stayed there until the college was closed in 1948. In Varna he was active among the students and did not hide his anti-Communist sentiments; for this reason he was closely observed by secret service agents. In 1949 he was made treasurer and procurator of the Bulgarian Assumptionists and showed great courage in defending the rights of his Congregation and of the Church. At the time the Assumptionists were without funds; their colleagues the French Assumptionists tried to send money through the French Ambassador. A month before his arrest, Fr Pavel commented on the arrest and condemnation of several priests and wrote: "May God's will be done. We await our turn". On the night of 4 July 1952 he was arrested together with Fr Kamen and in September his name was on the list of the 40 persons accused of espionage against the People's Republic.
Josaphat Chichkov (1884- 1952)
Josaphat Chichov was born on 9 February 1884 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. He was baptized Robert Matthew and belonged to a large family of fervent Latin Rite Catholics. He did his studies at the school of Kara-Agatch from 1893-1899. When he was nine years old, he entered the minor seminary of the Assumptionists of Kara-Agatch. On 29 April 1900 he began his novitiate and was given the name "Josaphat". In 1901 he was made teacher at Kara-Agatch and in 1902 at Varna, where he directed the college's musical band and wrote articles for Bulgarian magazines. In 1904 his superiors sent him to Louvain, Belgium, where by 1909 he completed his studies in philosophy and theology. On 11 July 1909, at Malines, Belgium, he was ordained priest for the Latin Rite. Back in Bulgaria, he taught at St Augustine College, Plovdiv, and then at St Michael College, Varna. He was also superior of Sts Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Yambol. He served as parish priest of the Latin parish in Yambol and was chaplain of the Oblate Sisters of the Assumption. Then he returned to Varna and served there until he was arrested in December 1951 by the Communist militia.
He was a man who was full of energy, a man of great erudition who quoted the famous Protestant and Catholic exegetes of the era, a fine musician, a great preacher and a good educator with a fine sense of humour. He had one of the first typewriters with Cyrillic characters, a record player and a film projector to show Pathé-Baby newsreels. He expanded the seminary to take thirty seminarians for both rites, the Latin and of the Byzantine-Slavonic Rite. He celebrated the liturgy one week in Latin and the next in Slavonic. In order to cope with financial needs, he organized collection campaigns and earned money teaching French to teachers, civil servants and officers of the Bulgarian Army. At Varna he started the "St Michael French-Bulgarian Circle" that had more than 150 members, most of them students of Advanced Business Studies, since the town was a port on the Black Sea. He was often the host of Bishop Roncalli who liked to drop into the Seminary for a rest. In 1949 he became parish priest at the Latin parish of Varna. He worked hard in the parish while writing the articles that were published in Poklonnik (the Pilgrim), a magazine for Catholic Bulgarians. The priests also introduced the devotion to the Sacred Heart in the families. He was arrested in December 1951 and there was no news of his whereabouts for a year. On 16 September 1952 his name was on the list when the act of accusation against the 40 accused was published. His life could be summed up in a short sentence in a letter he wrote in 1930: "We seek to do as well as we can in order to sanctify ourselves without seeming to do so".
Raúl Rodríguez (1947-1976)
"Carlos Antonio and Raúl Eduardo are two religious Assumptionists disappeared on June 4, 1976 in La Manuelita (Partido de San Miguel), victims of the violence that devastated Argentina under the dictatorship of the National Reorganization Process" (Roberto FAVRE, En memoria de ellos “In memory of them”, p.5) "They knew that their vocation as religious was asking them for the riskiest of testimonies, and for that reason they also saw the martyrdom coming:" The glory of the Christians was never a success, wrote Raul, but the Cross. " And he continued: "The Church bears fruits when it has martyrs. There are still martyrs today, not only by the shedding of blood, but in many different ways. And I believe that the Lord wants us so in love with Him that we do not care about the how or when of our Cross, but an unconditional submission to his will "(26.02.76).
Carlos Antonio Di Pietro (1944-1976)
Carlos Antonio: "I am in constant fear, but at the same time, the Lord has provided me a blind hope and a faith that overtakes that fear. It is strange, because there is fear deep inside of me but I am not afraid. He (The Lord) is watching over me "(24.05.76). Eleven days later he would be kidnapped, along with Raúl, .and never seen again. In their 31 and 29 years old, respectively, they did not die as naïve young people or as idealistic, but as men of faith, in love with Christ and dedicated to His cause, because, "they knew very well in whom they had placed their faith": The death of our brothers Carlos Antonio and Raúl was an accepted consequence of the option for God and for men, which came from their faith and their religious consecration "(Roberto FAVRE, The Assumptionists in Argentina 1910-2010, p. 250).
In remembrance of them today we want to learn from their testimony of life and to strengthen our experience of faith in a world that continues to write his history with innocent blood. Let us prepare ourselves to listen to the Word of God that these brothers of ours lived until the last consequences.
Daniel (Hubert) Gillard (1935-1985)
Born in Belgium, he belonged to the Community of the Assumptionists. At the age of 30 he arrived in Colombia in 1965 where he did social work and in the last 15 years of his life he lived and worked in the District of Aguablanca in Cali.
"Where there is a will there is always a way" (Daniel Hubert Gillard).
Daniel was assassinated in Cali, on April 10, 1985 in the Vergel neighborhood when he was traveling to the parish of Señor de los Milagros, in a red Nissan car, he was shot 5 times, his companions Nohemí Arévalo, Caritas accountant and Rigoberto Cortés were wounded, he was taken to a clinic where he remained unconscious under brain death and where he died when his oxygen was disconnected on October 26, 1985.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Members of the general councils of various orders and congregations in Rome, Italy who are present in the Diocese of Butembo-Beni, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have issued a message of solidarity with the people of the Diocese of Butembo-Beni. They have denounced and condemned the cruelty and brutality of massacres and kidnappings in the region. They also speak of concern regarding the disappearance of three Assumptionist priests (Fathers Jean-Pierre Mumbere Ndulani; Anselme Kakule Wasukundi and Edmond Bamtupe Kisughu) missing since 19 October 2012.
The region is home to a host of various armed gangs marauding in the area.
We, the members of the general councils of various orders and congregations present in the Diocese of Butembo-Beni, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have been informed of the recent unrest and massacres in the region of the dioceses of Butembo-Beni and in its proximities. We were shocked to learn of the dreadful slaughter of unarmed civilians, even as the people of this region are still mourning the kidnapping of more than 800 individuals, including three Assumptionist priests on October 19, 2012. This word of ours is meant to be an expression of our solidarity with the people of the DRC in general and the Church of Butembo-Beni in particular, and especially to Christ’s disciples working tirelessly for peace and for the development of the people in this region.
2. The dignity of the human person finds its source in God and is inalienable
We denounce and condemn the cruelty and brutality of these killings – of adults and children alike – in the regions of the Diocese of Butembo-Beni. Our initiative arises from our faith. It is a fundamental principle of our faith that every person is created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27). The massacres that have occurred in the region of Mbau, in the diocese of Butembo-Beni strike us by their heinous, inhuman, and senseless nature; they were not only cold-blooded, but they targeted innocent children, as well as unarmed men and women.
3. The massacres
From October 2014 to this very day, you have had to face horrible massacres. From the information we have received, peace-abiding and unarmed citizens have been abducted and murdered in villages of the territory of Beni. Night-time raids by armed men have resulted in people being kidnapped and others being killed. Pillaging has also taken place: of money, goats, and chicken The nature of these killings is unbelievable: some had their throats slit; children’s arms were gashed; a number of women, even though some were pregnant, were raped and disemboweled; there were cases of entire families being massacred. Victims were killed brutally with machetes, knives, or axes. These killings spread to the Diocese of Bunia in January 2015. Up to the present, more than 400 people have been butchered with the same inhumanity.
4. Consequences of the massacres
These killings have had significant after-effects: food shortages, the interruption or already malfunctioning of medical services, displacement of peoples, migrations, lack of psycho-social services, and the suspension of educational services and activities. Family life has been disrupted, if not destroyed. It is unacceptable that the instability of the DRC and killings of this nature persist and that the country continues to be plunged into this spiral of violence. Clearly, the people of the DRC have suffered for too long. They continue to live in insecurity, instability, and poverty, even though their country is blessed with rich natural resources to which only the greedy and the armed have access.
5. Dear Bishops, dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Working in a situation as unstable as the one in your country is not easy. We thank you all, members of the Church and volunteers for your hard work for so many years. We encourage you to continue this ministry of evangelization, which finds its source in an encounter with the saving love of Jesus. Let us keep in mind these words of Pope Francis, «the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters » (EG 265).
The Church must bring its pastoral concern to the victims as well as to the perpetrators of these atrocities. This genocide among brothers must come to an end. But the brutality of these killings reveals the depth of sin in the hearts of its perpetrators and accomplices. The ministry of the Church must reach out to them as well. May you continue to redouble your efforts in the work of forming consciences, of educating the whole person, and of promoting justice, reconciliation, healing and peace. Relying on our own power, that is impossible. We ourselves must encounter Christ if we are to be bearers of the Good News to our brothers and sisters.
6. Dear brother and sister religious
Do not lose heart! Continue to take part in the human, spiritual, and ethical rebuilding of your country by becoming “experts in communion », witnesses and artisans of this « project of communion » (Apostolic letter of his holiness Pope Francis to all consecrated people, II, 3), encouraging « communion and mutual support « (Ibidem), in becoming: prophets who bear witness to the way that Jesus lived on this earth » (Ibid., II, 2). It is our duty and our privilege to give witness to our people by an example of fraternal love, of solidarity, and of mutual sharing that shows that ethnic differences are a source of strength and goodness and not of division and hatred. We encourage you, dear Major Superiors, to form religious in the areas of justice and peace, of psycho-social services, and of communication for the effective running of your communities and for your apostolic activities.
We are counting on you to inform us every time you deem it necessary by conveying to us objective reports of what is happening.
7. Involvement of the members of the general councils in Rome
As members of our general councils residing here in Rome, we got together and shared our reflections on the situations which you are experiencing. We were deeply moved and affected by what you have had to endure. We recognize how courageous you are in continuing to carry out your ministry among people in such difficult circumstances. We wish to express to you our moral and spiritual support in assuring you of our prayer for all of you.
On our part, we are committed to getting the news out about the deteriorating situation in the DRC and to being in touch with the organs of Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation of the USG-UISG so as to contribute to the effort of making this ongoing unrest known to the international community and to the different organizations involved in human rights.
8. Keep Hope alive
As St. John Paul II said, « God's redeeming love embraces the whole of humanity, every race, tribe and nation: thus it also embraces all the peoples of Africa » (Ecclesia in Africa 27) and « the Good News is Jesus Christ » (Ibidem 60). We encourage you to rekindle your faith, hope, and love in God and in your brothers and sisters. Raise up your eyes to Christ; he is the source of hope. Moreover, « Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others » (Evangeli Gaudium 39). May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, be with you all and renew your energy and your strength.
Rome, March 2015
Your brothers and sisters in Christ living in Rome,
Augustinians of the Assumption/Assumptionists
Sisters of the Holy Family of Spoleto
Sisters of the Order of the Company of Mary Our Lady
Sisters of Mary Reparatrix
Order of the Holy Cross/Croziers
Missionaries of Africa/White Fathers
Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Clerics Regular Minor/Carraciolins
Order of Secular Discalced Carmelites
Vincent Machozi (04.04.1965-20.03.2016)
Fr. Vincent Machozi was shot to death as a result of his efforts to document, protest against, and end violence and exploitation of the people of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Fr. Machozi, who was born in the village of Vitungwe-Isale in North Kivu, was a member of the Augustinians of the Assumption. In order to gain control of valuable coltan mines, many different armed groups terrorized and exacted forced labor from the people living in this region, which borders Rwanda and Uganda. Fr. Machozi ran an important website, Beni Lubero, where he publicized the atrocities for all to see. After spending time in studies at the Boston University School of Theology, Machozi returned to the Congo, where he eventually was selected as president of the Nande community. As a result of his continued work for justice in the region, Fr. Machozi was murdered on March 20, 2016, in Katolu village.