Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XIII: The Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Language: Albanian

Juridical Status: Apostolic Administration. The most common reason for an apostolic administration is that a diocese currently has no bishop, and there is a problem with getting one in the near future. The Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania, however, is a stable administration that arose because of unusual historical events, and thus functions almost exactly like a diocese under normal circumstances, except for the fact that its bishop is a titular bishop of a different rite rather than a diocesan one of the same rite.

Approximate Population: Unknown, but certainly less than 3500.

Brief History: Albania historically was part of the patriarchate of Rome, being quite literally just across the Strait of Otranto from Italy. Northern Albania tended to be influenced by the Latin Rite and Southern Albania by the Byzantine Rite, but papal jurisdiction over both was not questioned. In the eighth century, however, the Iconoclasm Controversy led to high tensions between the Pope and the Emperor, and the Emperor removed by force Greek-influenced portions of the Roman patriarchate, including eastern Illyricum in modern-day Albania. Some parts of this stolen jurisdiction, like Southern Italy, returned slowly to papal jurisdiction, but the Albanian parts were more firmly held. There still was occasional communication between the two, however, and despite the increasingly wide split between Greek East and Latin West, and there were notable emigrations of Albanians to Italy in the fifteenth century. In 1660, the Orthodox Archbishop of Southern Albania joined the Catholic communion, and for about a century Southern Albania was Catholic, but the pressure from the Turks was immense, and the union eventually dissolved.

Beginning in the 1890s, however, small pockets of Catholicism kept welling up in Southern Albania, nothing major, but constantly and consistently enough that the Italo-Albanians in Grottaferrata sent missions. The most significant group was centered at Elbasan under Father George Germanos. Rome appointed an Apostolic Administrator for Catholics in the area in 1939. The event was happy, but the timing was less than fortunate. Italy invaded; then Albania was a Nazi Protectorate; then Albania became increasingly Communist, and the Apostolic Administrator was eventually expelled. In 1967, Albania was declared officially atheist, and the persecution of Catholics under the Communists grew intense and brutal. (The stories of Albanian martyrs, of any rite, under the Communist regime are often horrifying, with things like priests being tortured and then stabbed to death with screwdrivers.) The Byzantine Rite Catholics in Albania seemed to vanish entirely.

Only after 1992, when the People's Republic of Albania was dissolved and Albania became the Republic of Albania, was it possible to assess the damage. Ivan Dias was appointed Apostolic Administrator to Southern Albania and began the slow work of repair. He was succeeded in 1996 by Hil Kabashi, who is (I believe) a Croatian Byzantine Catholic.

While the Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania is Byzantine Rite, most of the Albanian Catholics in its care and most of the priests caring for them are Latin Rite. In fact, there seems to be only one parish in the whole diocese, in Elbasan, that is Byzantine Rite. What will happen from this point on is difficult to say. It seems in some ways to be a particular church constituted entirely by historical accidents that have kept it from developing on its own and yet also have kept it from being officially joined to the Latin or Italo-Albanian churches. At present, it is almost a juridical technicality that makes it a particular church at all. But it is also the case the recovery from decades of brutal oppression has been slow, and it is impossible to say what surprises might be in store if it continues to repair.

Notable Religious Institutes: The Basilian Sisters of St. Macrina.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Apostolic Administration of Southern Albania.

Online Sources and Resources: Perhaps needless to say, there is almost nothing online about this tiny barely-church, and much of it seems to be out of date.


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