- BY PROF. PHILIP J. DINOVO

ITALIAN GREEK ALBANIANS: Found in the regions of Calabria, the Abruzzi, Campania, Molise, Apulia, Basilicata and on the island of Sicily. They are known as Ghegi by Italians. They call themselves Arberesh. Albanian refugees entered Italy this decade because of political unrest in Albania. While the majority of Albanians are Moslems, those who live in Italy are Catholic, of the Roman or Byzantine Rite. The total population is well over 100,000. The Italian influence in Albania is great, many speak Italian, watch Italian TV. The historical ties between Italy and Albania are very strong.


Southern Italy was known as "Magna Graeci," greater Greece. The Greek language, manners and customs once prevailed from Naples southward, while in Sicily the country and cities were wholly Greek. Many Italian Greeks have held both to their faith and their rite, as it was before the schism of 860, yet Catholic, in communion with Rome.

Albanian Catholics of the Byzantine Rite left their homeland because of Turkish domination in the fifteenth century and fled to Italy. Here they were given heroes' welcomes, along with grants of land to settle. From this time dates the renaissance of the Byzantine Rite in Italy.

Catholics of the Byzantine rite number around 70,000 in Italy, the eparchy (diocese) of Piana degli Albanese near Palermo in Sicily, and the eparchy of Lungro in Calabria. There are as many faithful living in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Australia.

About 10,000 Byzantine Italians emigrated to the United States from 1900 to around 1920. It is estimated that over 100,000 Italians of the Byzantine Rite live in the United States today.

During the year of 1904, an energetic young Italian Greek Catholic priest, the Pappas (Rev.) Ciro Pinnola, came to America and gathered up the scattered flock of Italian Greek Catholics. He established a small storefront church in New York's "Little Italy." The name of the chapel was Our Lady of Grace and it was located on Stanton Street. The offical title of his chapel was "Maria SSma Delle Grazie." Chiesa Cattolica Italiana, Pappas Pinnola chanted the Liturgy (Mass) in Greek, his sermons were in classical Sicilian and his church records in Italian.

Pappas died in 1946; unfortunately no one has contined his work. Most of his people have melted into Latin Rite parishes. The Society of Maria Delle Grazie, 51 Redgrave Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10306, is trying to reestablish the Italian Byzantine Rite in America. Recently Bishop Lupinacci, Bishop of the eparchy of Lungro (Calabria), Italy, visited New York City. During his ten day stay, the society asked the bishop to restore the rite in the United States, but there is little hope that will occur in the near future.

I wondered how Italian the Italian/Greek/Albanian Byzantines were, so I asked John DeMeis, Historian of the Our Lady of Grace Society. His answer was, "They are as much Italian as you and I are American."

If your name is Greco, LiGreci, Albanese, Albano, Marchiano, Miniaci, or begins with "Papa" such as Papalardo, or names ending in "s" such as Reres, DeSantis, DeMatteis, Jacobellis, it is likely that you have Italo-Greek or Italian Albanian "roots." Since both sets of my grandparents came from Sicily, I must have Greek Albanian "roots," as well as Arab, French, Spanish, Viking, German, Roman, etc. Almost everyone invaded Italy; that is why we are cousins to everyone. Many nations have contributed to our character, and in turn, we have influenced the character of many nations, too. Our Italian heritage and culture is unique and we should treasure it and pass it on to future generations.

Home    Italo-Albanian Catholic Church    Italy's Byzantine Catholics
Question and Answer    Photo Gallery    Links