From Eastern Christian Churches
Other Eastern Catholic Communities
by Ronald Roberson, C.S.P.
a. Russians: From the early 19th century until 1905, Greek Catholicism was illegal in the Russian Empire. But after Tsar Nicholas II issued his edict of religious toleration, a few small communities of Greek Catholics were formed. In 1917 an Apostolic Exarchate was established for them. But the group was annihilated soon after the Bolshevik Revolution. A second Apostolic Exarchate was set up for the few Russian Byzantine Catholic refugees in China in 1928, based in Harbin [see Orthodox Church of China]. It has since disappeared. A Russian College, the Russicum, was founded in Rome in 1929 under Jesuit supervision to train clergy to work with Russian emigrés and in Russia itself.
The Apostolic Exarchates in Russia and China are still officially extant, but as of 2008 neither of them had been reconstituted in spite of the re-emergence of a handful of communities in Russia. In 2004 Pope John Paul II nominated Bishop Joseph Werth of the Latin Diocese of the Transfiguration in Novosibirsk as Ordinary bishop for Catholics of the Byzantine rite in Russia, but the Apostolic Exarchate has no other structures. There are now five parishes registered in Siberia, and in Moscow there are two parishes and one pastoral center that are not registered with the authorities. There is also one non-registered community in Obninsk and a community in Saint Petersburg.
For many decades Russian Catholics were limited to a scattered presence in the diaspora. There are four Russian Byzantine Catholic worshiping communities in the United States, two each in Argentina, France, and Germany, and one each in Australia, Brazil, and Italy. All of them fall under the jurisdiction of the local Latin bishops.
b. Belarusans: Like their Ukrainian counterparts [see the Ukrainian Catholic Church], todays Belarusan Catholics originated in the Union of Brest (1595-1596). The Belarusan Greek Catholic Church was suppressed by the Russian imperial government along with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the 19th century.
After World War I, a community of about 30,000 Greek Catholics emerged in areas of Belarus that had been annexed by Poland. An Apostolic Visitator was appointed for them in 1931, and an Exarch in 1940. After World War II, when the area was absorbed by the Soviet Union, the church was again suppressed and integrated into the Russian Orthodox Church. Belarusan Catholics were brutally persecuted under communist rule.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Belarus in 1991, Belarusan Greek Catholics began to emerge once again. By early 1992 three priests and two deacons were at work and, unlike most of their Roman Catholic and Orthodox colleagues, were celebrating the liturgy in Belarusan. A survey of religious affiliation undertaken by the Belarus State University in 1992 indicated that about 100,000 Belarusans self-identified as Greek Catholic. In 1993 Archimandrite Sergiusz Gajek, M.I.C., was named Apostolic Visitator to the Greek Catholics in Belarus. At the beginning of 2005, there were 20 Greek Catholic parishes in Belarus, 13 of them registered with the authorities. There were about 3,000 faithful worshiping in these parishes, served by ten priests.
There are about 2,000 Belarusan Greek Catholics outside the country. The best organized communities are in London and Chicago, and a new parish was founded in Belgium in 2003.
c. Georgians: Catholic missionaries began to work in the Georgian kingdom in the 13th century, setting up small Latin communities. A Latin diocese existed in Tbilisi from 1329 to 1507. In 1626 missionaries began to work specifically with Georgian Orthodox faithful [see the Orthodox Church of Georgia]. In 1845, the Russian government, which had controlled Georgia since 1801, expelled the Catholic missionaries. But in 1848 Tsar Nicholas I agreed to the creation of a Latin diocese at Tiraspol with jurisdiction over Catholics in the vast southern regions of the empire, including Georgia.
A small community of Armenian Catholics existed in Georgia since the 18th century. Because the tsars forbade their Catholic subjects to use the Byzantine rite, and the Holy See did not promote its use among the Georgians, no organized Georgian Greek Catholic Church ever existed. In 1920 it was estimated that of 40,000 Catholics in Georgia, 32,000 were Latins and the remainder of the Armenian rite. However, a small Georgian Byzantine Catholic parish has long existed in Istanbul. Currently it is without a priest. Twin male and female religious orders of the Immaculate Conception were founded there in 1861, but have since died out.
After Georgia became independent again in 1991, the Catholic Church was able to function more freely, and a sizeable Armenian Catholic community began to resume a normal ecclesial life.
d. Albanians: The first community of Byzantine Catholic Albanians was a small mission along the coast of Epirus that existed from 1628 to 1765. A second group was established in about 1900 by a former Albanian Orthodox priest, Fr. George Germanos. By 1912 his community numbered about 120 and was centered in the village of Elbasan. In 1938 monks from the Italo-Albanian monastery at Grottaferrata came to assist them. An Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania was set up for the community in 1939, and was temporarily placed under the pastoral care of the Apostolic Delegate in Albania, Archbishop Leone Giovanni Nigris. By 1945 it had about 400 members, but in that year Archbishop Nigris was expelled from the country.
The group vanished after Albania was declared an atheist state in 1967. In 1996 Hil Kabashi was appointed the first bishop of the Apostolic Administration since 1945, but its faithful, which number about 3,500, are almost entirely of the Latin rite. The only exception is a small parish that is associated with a community of Basilian Sisters of St. Macrina located in Elbasan at the site of the earlier mission.