See a list of abbreviations used in this list.
Southern Italy and Sicily had a strong connection with Greece in antiquity and for many centuries there was a large Greek-speaking population there. In the early centuries of the Christian era, although most of the Christians were of the Byzantine tradition, the area was included in the Roman Patriarchate, and a gradual but incomplete process of latinization began.
During the 8th century, Byzantine emperor Leo III removed this region from Papal jurisdiction and placed it within the Patriarchate of Constantinople. There followed a strong revival of the Byzantine tradition in the area. But the Norman conquest in the early 11th century resulted in its return to the Latin Patriarchate. By this time the local Byzantine church was flourishing, and there were hundreds of monasteries along the coasts of southern Italy. The Normans, however, discouraged Byzantine usages in their lands, and the Greek bishops were replaced by Latin ones. This marked the beginning of a process which led to the almost total absorption of the Byzantine faithful into the Latin Church.
During this period, Byzantine bishops coexisted alongside with Latin bishops in many sees in Southern Italy. This lingered for a while even after the Norman conquest - their obedience shifted gradually from Constantinople to Rome.
The Archimandritate ("archabbey") SS. Salvatore di Messina was responsible for Catholics of Byzantine rite in Sicily; this rite lasted at least as far as the middle of the 15th Century, with an attempt of revival under Cardinal Bessarion, the last Archimandrite of Greek origin (who complained that the knowledge of the Basilian tradition was very low among the hieromonks of SS. Salvatore.
This decline was reversed in the 15th century with the arrival of two large groups of Albanian immigrants who had fled their country following its conquest by the Turks. Those from the northern part of Albania, where the Latin rite was prevalent, were quickly absorbed into the local population. But those from the Orthodox south remained loyal to their Byzantine traditions. Actually, many of them came from south of what is modern Almania, from the Epirus or even from the Albanian diaspora in Peloponnesus.
The situation began to improve in the 18th century. In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV published the bull "Etsi pastoralis" which was intended to buttress the position of the Italo-Albanians in relation to the Latins. It paved the way for more progressive legislation - and recognition of the equality of the Byzantine rite with the Latin - in the next century.
Italo-Albanian seminaries were founded in 1732 in Calabria and in 1734 in Palermo. Later, two dioceses for the Italo-Albanians were founded: The diocese of Lungro (in Calabria) was founded in 1919, has 27 parishes (1995) and har jurisdiction over continental Italy. The diocese of Piana degli Albanesi, founded in 1937, covers all of Sicily and has 15 parishes. Alongside these two dioceses is the monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata, just a few miles from Rome. It was founded in the 11th century, and thus not related to the Albanian immigration much later, but rather to the remnants of Byzantine Catholicsm in Italy. It is actually the only remnant of the once-flourishing Italo-Greek monastic tradition. In 1937 the monastery was given the status of a territorial abbey. It is, in spite of its different historic roots, now considered a part of the Italo-Albanian Church.
Albanian villages in Southern Italy now (2001) have a total of about 250 000 inhabitants, but only 150 000 of them preserve Albanian dialects and only 61 000 the Byzantine rite. Those villages that follow the Byzantine rite best preserve their Albanian dialects. Because of that fact, many Albanian villages, especially in Calabria, try to revive the Byzantine rite among themselves. The Vatican does not discourage the trend, but much depends upon the ability of the Bishop of Lungro to send out priests who would be able to care for these parishes.
The few Greek speaking Italians in Southern Calabria and the many in the province of Lecce (about 10 villages) are now of Latin rite. There are, however, a few (Catholic) Greek Churches in Southern Italy for the few Greeks of recent immigration who became Catholic.
Italo-Albanian Catholics outside Italy do not have any jurisdiction of their own.
- Lungro / in Albanian: Ungër, or L'Úngro [It.-Alb.] (detached from Cassano all'Ionio, from San Marco e Bisignano, and from Rossano) - Italy
- Piana del Greci /in Albanian: Hora, or Qana [It.-Alb.] (detached from Monreale, and from Palermo) - Italy
- Santa Maria di Grottaferrata (Abb., Byz./It.-Alb.]) - Italy
- Piana degli Albanesi /in Albanian: Hora, or Qana [It.-Alb.] (new name, previously Piana del Greci) - Italy