ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Byzantine Catholics in Italy

The Italo-Albanian Church in Sicily maintains the island’s Byzantine roots.

Walking along the rocky, wooded hillside you can see the soaring ruins of a temple in the distance. The Greek gods are long gone, but the soft chant and incense of the Byzantine liturgy waft down the valley.

Where in the Mediterranean are you? Why in Sicily, of course.

For so many of the centuries of its long history, the island of Sicily – and even much of southern Italy – was Greek in its language and culture.

In classical times it was part of Magna Graecia. As late as the early medieval period Greek was still spoken. In fact, for about 300 years before the Norman invasion in the 11th century the whole area was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople, not the Pope, the Patriarch of the West.

Today the last remnant of that ancient Italo-Greek church is the monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata, just outside Rome. The abbot, often a bishop, has jurisdiction over the Basilian monks of the monastery and local faithful.

Once there were hundreds of these Byzantine Catholic monasteries throughout southern Italy. Gradually, after the Norman conquest, the monasteries, monks and people were absorbed into the Latin or Roman Church.

It was one of those curious accidents of history that led to a revival of Byzantine Catholicism in Italy. As the Ottoman Turks spread their empire throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, many Christians chose to emigrate rather than live under an Islamic regime.

In the 15th century two large groups of Christian

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