At the present time, Catholics of the Byzantine Rite number nearly 70,000 in Italy and Sicily. They are grouped into two dioceses, or eparchies, as they are known in the East: the eparchy of Lungro in Calabria and the eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi near Palermo in Sicily. At least as many faithful are to be found abroad in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia.
A heroic attempt to implant the Church in America was made by Father Ciro Pinnola. He founded a small storefront church in Manhattan at the turn of the century, Our Lady of Grace on Stanton Street. From this modest headquarters he strove to gather his community, which was scattered in Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
From 1900 to 1910, 10,000 Byzantine Italians emigrated to the United States. Because large families were customary then, there are surely more than 100,000 Italians of the Byzantine Rite in the United States today. Unfortunately, no one has continued the work of Papas Ciro since his death in 1946. Most of his beloved people and their descendants have melted into the Latin Rite parishes, with only their family names as mute witnesses to the glorious history of which they are heirs. Names like Greco, LiGreci, Marchiano, Albanese, or Minisci or names beginning with Papa, which indicates a priestly family echo their Greek or Albanian ancestry.
An Italian priest of the Byzantine Rite remarked, Is it possible that our tradition has survived two thousand years, nearly faced extinction during the Middle Ages, and enjoyed revival by the Albanian Crusade, only to become extinct in the prosperity and freedom of the New World? Only God can say. On our part we offer a prayer to the Mother of God, the Odegitria, She-Who-Shows-Us-the-Way. As she has accompanied these radiant souls on their journey for two millenia, may she continue to keep them in her care, faithful to their sacred calling, until her Son comes again in glory.
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Father Romanos is Director of the Office of Educational Services of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts.
Tags: Church history Italy Italo-Byzantine Catholic Church