Thursday, December 13, 2012

Byzantine Christians in Italy: From the Archives of the Istituto Luce

A friend and recent graduate of the Pontifical Russian College here in Rome recently posted an interesting video on his facebook page, from the archives of the Istituto Luce. The name of this organization is an acronym from "L'Unione Cinematografica Educativa", (Union for Educational Cinematography), and it has been active in making documentaries and educational films since 1924. A few other videos potentially of interest to our readers appear on the sidebar of their recently created youtube channel. This first video was made in 1940, and shows about 2 minutes of the Divine Liturgy at the Russicum. I must point out that this was filmed at the height of Italian Fascism, and very much reflects the style of its era in both the film itself and the style of the singing, (which has improved enormously since then!) Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see a recording made more than 70 years ago in church I regularly attend, and recognize most of the furnishings.
The second video was made in 1951, and shows a few scenes from one of the Greek-Rite Albanian communities in the southern region of Calabria, in the province of Cosenza. A translation of the Italian narration is given below.
“In the province of Cosenza, a group of small towns such as San Basilio, San Demetrio, Valcarezzo and Spezzano, form what is called an ‘ethnic island’. Groups of Albanians emigrated here starting in the year 1470, fleeing from the Turkish invasion after the death of Skanderbeg, their leader and defender. Here they have preserved intact their language, and their religion in the Greek rite. (0:31) In a seminary, future priests are educated from childhood, the custodians of their traditions. (0:38) A wedding day: the founding of a new family is here an occasion of great solemnity, a sumptuous ceremony rich in symbolism. The bread of Communion, offered three times to the couple is (i.e. represents) the food they will share with their children; and the wine symbolizes joy, the comfort of the common table. The glass is then broken, as a sign of an act done once and for all. Crossing his arms, one of the witnesses crowns the couple three times; woven with orange flowers and bands of gold-filigree, the crowns remain at the head of the nuptial bed until they worn again as a sign of mourning (at the death of one of the spouses).”
A third video, from 1964, describes the visit of a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishop, H.E. Ivan Bućko, to a Roman parish, and his examination of a display set up by the parish priest on the “Martyr Church” in the Communist world. Monsignor Bućko was himself a refugee from the persecution of the Church in the Ukraine; having previously served as an auxiliary bishop under Andrej Sheptytsky in Lviv, he came to Italy and devoted many years of his life to the pastoral care of Ukrainian refugees. (Again, a translation of the Italian narration is given below.)
“Monsignor Giovanni (Ivan) Bućko, titular archbishop of Leucas, is a Ukrainian refugee. He is accompanied by a group of officials. In Rome, at the parish of San Felice di Cantalice, after the celebration of a Mass in the Oriental Rite, he visits a display which makes us think: a display about the Martyr Church. This display does not have any political goals, its purpose is religious, spiritual and dogmatic. Fr. Domenico Chianella, whose idea it was, said to us: (0:36) ‘This display on the Martyr-Church, which is private in nature, intends first of all to make known the suffering of our brothers in the faith, this limitation of their religious liberty, which still continues. It is also intended to get people to pray, by making these sufferings known to them, and so inviting all peoples to pray for our brother in the “church in silence.” ’ These children sung during the Mass, they are refugees, like their bishop. (Child speaking at 1:07). ‘We are the children of Ukrainian refugees, scattered all over Europe.’ (Young man at 1:12) ‘Our parents left the Ukraine for religious reasons, and also because of the Communist regime.’ (Bishop Bucko at 1:21) ‘The current Soviet government, although it does not use force or violence, * nevertheless makes every effort to destroy all sense of religion, since they consider that the time is at hand for the establishment of a Communist society, without God, without law. The churches are closed, the people cannot publically celebrate divine worship.’ (2:03) The persecutions, then, are not over, but Christians everywhere confront these trials with great courage, as they did in the early centuries, mindful of the words of Jesus, ‘They have persecuted me, they will persecute you as well. (John 15, 20) ’ ”
* Note that Bishop Bućko is of course speaking of the year 1964, the end of the Krushchev regime, and while the persecution of the Catholic Church in the Soviet Union and dependencies was very real, it did not involve the unrestrained violence seen under earlier Soviet leaders.