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Responding to complaints from Latin bishops that Byzantines refused to use the Roman calendar, denied the existence of purgatory and gave Communion to infants, Pope Pius IV subjected all Italo-Byzantine bishops, clergy and faithful, their churches, monasteries and sacred places to local Latin ordinaries. No longer were Italy’s Byzantine Catholics a distinct church. Now they were simply Catholics who followed a rite other than the Latin rite (officially designated by Pope Benedict XIV as the “preeminent rite and the teacher of all other rites”). This understanding of the Eastern churches and rites was to form the basis of the relations between Rome and the Eastern Catholic churches for the next four centuries. Not until the early 20th century would the papacy restore the hierarchy of the Italo-Byzantine Catholic Church.

Two important institutions, however, were born during this period. In 1573, Pope Gregory XIII established the Congregation for the Greeks, a committee of cardinals who addressed issues relating to the Greeks in southern Italy and Sicily in the hope of resolving tensions between Greeks and Latins. This congregation was the predecessor of the modern Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the department of the Holy See responsible for oversight of the Eastern Catholic churches throughout the world.

In 1576, the same pope established the Pontifical Greek College of St. Athanasius (popularly known as the Greek College) in Rome, which he charged with educating Italo-Byzantine clerics.

Modern Byzantine Italians. The cultural, ethnic and linguistic background of the Italo-Byzantine community today is largely Italo-Albanian. This community takes pride in their fidelity to the pope and the Catholic Church. But it also never severed its bonds with the Orthodox Church in Albania or in Constantinople. For this reason, the Byzantines in Italy have served as a bridge between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Servant of God Father Giorgio Guzzetta (1682-1756) cultivated bonds between Italo-Albanian Byzantines and Albanian Orthodox, both of whom shared a common liturgical and cultural patrimony.

This community today comprises:

  • The Eparchy of Lungro (near Cosenza, Calabria), created in 1919 for Byzantines of Calabria and continental Italy, comprises 29 parishes with 32 priests and 33,000 faithful
  • The Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi (near Palermo), created in 1937 for Byzantines in Sicily, comprises 15 parishes with 30 priests and 28,500 faithful
  • The Monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata, elevated to the status of an exarchal monastery in 1937, has 40 monks and aspirants in four houses.

Despite the absence of reliable statistics, a number of Italo-Byzantine Catholics, of both Albanian and Greek descent, emigrated to the Americas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While some held on to their Italo-Byzantine traditions, most (especially in the United States) eventually assimilated into the larger Italian-American community.

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Tags: Eastern Christianity Church history Byzantium Haghia Sophia Italo-Byzantine Catholic Church