Serving The One Percent

By Sister Leticia Saraza OSB

Bulgaria is one of the Balkan states in southeast Europe.  It has had a turbulent history because of the constant power struggles in the region for more than 1,000 years.  These prevailed not only in the political sphere but also in the ecclesiastical domain.

As a result of the great Eastern Schism between Constantinople and Rome in the 11th century, the Church in Bulgaria today is predominantly Orthodox with loyalty to the Patriarch of Bulgaria rather than to the Pope in Rome.  Roman Catholics comprise less than one percent of the population.

It’s a long way from the Philippines where I grew up in Negros.  But here I am since December 2001 as a Missionary Benedictine Sister.  I am one of eleven sisters in our community.  Three of us are Filipinos, two Germans, one Korean and five elderly Bulgarians.  Our greatest need now is vocations – Bulgarian vocations – and we earnestly ask the good readers of Misyon to pray for this intention.

Working on our small flock

Our monastery is situated in the northeast part of the city of Schumen and we’ve been here since 1914.  Our apostolate here in the village of Zarevbrod is the production of herbal medicines for burns and other illnesses.  We also serve the parish church, which is on our property.  This is the only Catholic parish of the Latin Rite in the whole of Schumen.  Aside from these, we also teach English and computer skills to some children and adults both here in the village and in Schumen.  One sister helps in the First Communion preparation for children both from our Latin Rite parish and children from the Bulgarian Byzantine Catholic Church.  Out of the country’s population of about 8,000,000 there are only 65,000 Catholics in two dioceses of the Latin Rite and 15,000 in one diocese of the Byzantine Rite.

Passage through Mission

Last year I was on an intensive study of Bulgarian, a Slavic language, in Varna, one of Bulgaria’s largest cities.  The Slavic languages, including Russian, use the Cyrillic alphabet named after St Cyril (827-869), who with his brother St Methodius devised it while preaching the gospel in Bulgaria, Moravia and Bohemia, the latter two now the Czech Republic.  It’s not too unlike the Roman alphabet that we use, the difference being mainly in pronunciation.  For example, our letter ‘P’ represents the ‘R’ sound in their alphabet.  My study wasn’t easy, yet with God’s grace I can now understand and speak the language, though not yet fluently.  What inspired me while studying was something I read in an article entitled ‘Language study is in itself a Mission’ given to us in our mission orientation in the Philippines.

I have been an avid reader of Misyon since my college days.  Articles I read there, among other things, inspired me to be a missionary.  I rejoice to receive the magazine, and find it most interesting.