The Church and the national identity of Greece

03 December 2021

The face of Greek Catholics in the third millennium is undoubtedly increasingly multicultural, and the changes that this Church with strong roots is experiencing do not seem anything abnormal if they are framed within a broader history. The ability to create new syntheses of civilizations is the secret and the greatness of the Mediterranean culture, which has always been based on reciprocal exchanges, not only economic, and on an undefined system of coexistence between different human groups.

The Catholic Church in Greece is a minority presence that, in addition to an historical community of residents, especially on the islands, has in its womb a growing international community. Always a minority in a context in which Orthodox identity is associated and claimed as a founding element of Greek nationality itself, Greek Catholics constitute 0.5 per cent of the population, about 50,000 people, and they are considered a religious minority and not an ethnic one.

To better understand this situation we must consider some statistical data. Greece covers an area of about 132,000 square kilometres and has a population of about 11 million people, of which about 97 per cent profess the Orthodox Christian faith. In the last two decades, however, the number of Catholics in the country has quadrupled, reaching about 350,000 faithful.

The first flow of people date back to 1985. In particular, with the collapse of the communist regimes, several hundred thousand Catholics arrived in the country. The Poles alone reached the figure of about 100,000. Then came the Albanians, Romanians and Ukrainians. More recently, with the tensions in the Middle East, it was the turn of the Syrians and Lebanese. And there has been no shortage of Asians: Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans.

The latest Catholics to arrive come from the African continent, especially from the sub-Saharan region: they cross the Mediterranean or the Middle Eastern states, and land on the various islands. They are the faithful with the most difficulty, because they are not legal citizens and cannot count on a job.

The majority of Catholics live in Athens, a city of about four million people. But a large number have settled in the Cyclades, where Syros (8,000) and Tinos (3,000) have entirely Catholic villages and parishes. There are Catholics in Corfu (2,500), Patras, Thessaloniki (2,000), Ioannitsa, Kavala, Volos, and in the more distant islands of Rhodes, Kos, Crete, Naxos, Santorini, Samos, Chios, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos.

In addition to Latin-rite Catholics, who represent the majority of the faithful, there are also 2,500 Byzantine-rite Catholics and several hundred Armenian Catholics. (Silvina Pérez)