I have not posted on this blog since last February and a great deal has changed over the course of that lengthy period of time. For example, I’m currently living in Bulgaria and working as an English teacher at an English language high school in the city of Plovdiv (pop. 500,000). Like Rome, Plovdiv is a city that is built around seven different hills. Also, there is a sizeable Catholic community here, but I will comment on that later.
As I have mentioned before, I was born in Bulgaria and came to the United States at the age of 6. Returning to the homeland has been both a difficult and rewarding process. Difficult because I had to get used to various things that you will not find in the United States. For example, giving the exact amount of a foodstuff that you want to buy in grams rather than pounds. Also, the fact that the people here are much more social and that what is nobody’s business can quickly become everybody’s business
Yet living here is also rewarding. First of all, I would have to say that I am privileged to be working with two teachers who are extremely knowledgeable and who have taken me in. Both of them are very different from each other and this shows in the way that they treat their students. However, I have learned over the last three months that teaching is one of those professions where there isn’t a right or wrong approach. It is merely the attitude of the teacher that sometimes gets in the way.
Another interesting thing about Bulgaria is that it is still considered a missionary country by the Church. Plovdiv is the center of the Bulgarian archdiocese. Christianity in the region goes back to the first century and the Apostle Hermas (one of the Seventy and the author of “The Shepherd). However, it was during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that Franciscan missionaries began arriving and building parishes as well as preaching missions.
During the 20th century, a young priest from Italy was sent to Bulgaria as an Apostolic Visitor. The term “apostolic visitor” is not the same thing as a nuncio. A nuncio is an ambassador that has been sent to a particular country by the Holy See and functions in that capacity. An Apostolic Visitor, however, is someone that has been sent by the Holy See to observe the conditions of the country and to help the Holy See determine the spiritual conditions (the seminaries, the parishes, and so on).
This man made a great impact on this country. Even people who were non-Catholics asked after him for years. His name was Giovanni Roncalli or Blessed John XXIII and he came to Plovdiv many times over the course of his life as a diplomat in Bulgaria.
Living in a country that is still very much a missionary territory is something extremely special. At the cathedral, where I regularly attend Mass, there is a certain sense of community that I have not found in the United States. People know each other and it’s not unusual for a parish priest to know all of his parishioners by name. Perhaps, this comes from the fact that the Catholics in Bulgaria are not in the majority (only 2% of the population according to the last official census) and that their religion is looked down upon by their Orthodox brethren as heretical and schismatic.
Precisely because of these conditions and the persecution under Communism, I have always sensed that the people here take their faith seriously. The Masses are reverent, the congregation usually dresses up for Church, the priest’s homilies are usually concise and well-written, but what strikes me most of all is the sense of community and this sense of community is something that all of us need because we are all members of One Body in the Catholic Church.
Over the course of this year, I will continue blogging about my life in Bulgaria and providing spiritual reflections whenever possible on the ecclesiastical year.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
Holy Apostle Hermas, pray for us!
Blessed John XXIII, pray for us!