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The Italo-Greek Catholic Church, also known as the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, is a Byzantine Rite sui juris particular Church in full union with the Roman Catholic Church. Its members are concentrated in Sicily and southern Italy.
In some parts of southern Italy, a form of the Greek language is still preserved, in particular near Taranto and in Calabria, remnants of a situation that was once widespread, especially in Sicily, which was almost entirely Greek when, in 831, the Arabs began their conquest of the island. However, the Albanian Arberesh members of Church trace their origin rather to Albanians who fled the Ottoman invasions, particularly after the death of Skanderbeg in 1468.
Not all of these Albanians were of Byzantine Rite, since those from northern Albania were mainly of Latin Rite. Of the Byzantine-Rite arrivals, some were already Catholic, for example the Church of St. Vito in Piana degli Albanesi, and others soon accepted the authority of the local Latin-Rite bishops. Their presence attracted also the remnants of the earlier Greek-speaking communities and some others who had fled from Greece proper because of the Turkish conquest. In 1595, Pope Clement VIII promulgated an Instruction for the guidance of Latin-Rite bishops who had Greek Catholics in their dioceses, and Pope Benedict XIV revised this Instruction completely in 1742, providing the Italo-Greeks and Italo-Albanians with a small code of canon law. Schools and seminaries for them were founded in the eighteenth century.
The twentieth century saw the foundation in 1919 of the Eparchy of Lungro in Calabria, which serves Byzantine-Rite Albanians in mainland Italy, and in 1937 of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi for those in Sicily. The former has, for its 32,800 faithful, 29 parishes, two of which are of Latin Rite. Some of the 15 parishes subject to the Eparch of Piana degli Albanesi are also of Latin Rite. This eparchy has 28,500 faithful.
One month before the foundation of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi in 1937, the Byzantine-Rite monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata, not far from Rome, was given the status of a territorial abbacy, separating it from the jurisdiction of the local bishop. The abbot exercises jurisdiction over the monks and local faithful similar to that of a diocesan bishop
This Italian Byzantine-Rite monastery is the only remnant of the once-flourishing Italo-Greek monastic tradition. It was founded in 1004 by St. Nilus of Rossano, a monk of Greek descent from Calabria, and has remained in continuous operation since then. It is the only one of the Italo-Greek monasteries that has survived. Most of them gradually fell into decadence, and the final blow came with their being taken over by the Kingdom of Italy when it secularized religious orders in 1866. Only the Grottaferrata monastery, considered a national monument, was allowed to continue, with the monks as its guardians. In the course of time, the civil authorities have allowed them increasing independence.
In 1880 the Holy See ordered the liturgy of the monastery to be purged of the Latin elements that had been introduced over the centuries. Vocations were sought no longer from the general Italian population, but instead chiefly among Italo-Albanians, and the monks set up new monasteries in Sicily and Calabria.
The eparchies themselves have not been organized as a metropolia, and remain on an equal footing. While directly subject to the Holy See, they are associated with the local Latin metropolitan see.
- Oriente Cattolico (Vatican City: The Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Churches, 1974)
- Annuario Pontificio
- "Italo-Greeks". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Italo-Greeks.
- "The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church," in The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey, by Ronald Roberson, on the CNEWA website.