The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Pleven is an answer to prayer. In 1996, when Bishop Petko Christov of Nicopoli travelled to the Portuguese shrine of Fatima, together with the other Catholic bishops of Bulgaria, in order to consecrate their country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he made a special prayer and at the same time a promise to the Mother of God: “If I succeed in gaining permission to build a new church in Pleven, I will consecrate this church to you, Our Lady of Fatima.” At that time it was only seven years since the fall of communism in the country and the Catholic Church there was forced to start again virtually from scratch. At the same time the former communists among the civic authorities were doing all they could to block the building permit for this church.
Today people look back on this time as a “journey through hell”, comments Magda Kaczmarek of ACN, who runs the section with responsibility for this country. She has seen the situation at first hand. “Right from the start, we helped the Franciscans to rebuild their parish. Initially they prayed in private homes. I can recall Holy Mass being celebrated in the basement of a tower block. The most unpleasant thing was the noise of the drains. I felt as though we were still in the underground Church. At that time people were saying to us: if we have a church, then other people will also come who still long for a proper place of worship. And if this church is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, then Our Lady will undoubtedly help us to see that the church is built.”
(July 1st 2017: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri attending the celebrations of the Fatima anniversary at the new Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima at Pleven, Bulgaria © Aid to the Church in Need)
And indeed Our Lady did help. Scarcely had Bishop Christov returned home when he found a suitable plot of land, and the authorities duly granted the building permit. At last it was possible to start building a church in this town of some 120,000 souls with a relatively large Catholic population. Clearly, Our Lady had heard their prayers, and she continued to help them overcome the innumerable obstacles and difficulties that continued to arise even later.
Today the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Pleven is a diocesan Marian shrine where the Mother of God is honoured by innumerable Bulgarian Catholics. Soon it is to be elevated to the status of a national shrine. The Franciscans, to whose care the parish is entrusted, also visit other Catholic parishes with a travelling statue of Our Lady, so that still more of the Catholic faithful can have an opportunity to honour the Blessed Virgin of Fatima.
Altogether, ACN has contributed over $200,000 towards the construction of this church. Father Jaroslav Bartkiewicz, the delegate for the Franciscans in Bulgaria, has thanked ACN for their help and congratulated the charity on its 70th anniversary. He writes, “In this special place here in Pleven in Bulgaria we regularly entrust all the benefactors of ACN to Our Lady of Fatima and ask her to shower you with special graces. May she guard you all beneath her mantle and may ACN long continue to support the persecuted and oppressed Church on the many continents of this world.”
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929