Bulgarian Agency Denying Visas to Foreign Missionaries

The Bulgarian Office of Cults has denied visas to the Missionary Sisters of Charity and the Salesians, under a new law.

The law requires all religious communities to register with the tribunals, with the exception of those that belong to the traditional Orthodox Church, the Vidimus Dominum Web page reported.

The registration procedure is overseen by the Office of Cults, an autonomous ministry set up for religious questions. The law has just gone into effect and its procedures are not yet clear. In the meantime no visas are being issued to foreign missionaries, including Protestants.

"With this uncertainty, it is impossible to program anything," explained a Missionary Sister of Charity who has been denied a visa.

Another woman religious added that the visas of the community in the port city of Varna cost 4,000 euros ($4,330) a year. "Our service to the poor is a service to the country, too, and this bureaucracy is absolutely unjust," she said.

In general, ties between Bulgaria and the Holy See improved immensely after the Pope's visit last May.

Foreign religious, who represent more than half of the religious in Bulgaria, had hoped that the Office of Cults would also have changed its way of registering them because it is very difficult to have to go to the capital from everywhere in Bulgaria and spend days in bureaucratic lines.

Along with Protestants and Muslims, the president of the Bulgarian episcopal conference, Bishop Christo Proykov, has expressed his disappointment about the law to the president of the republic.

The Bulgarian media say the new norms were put in place to eliminate the "alternative" synod which appeared in 1992 after a split in the local Orthodox Church.