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Church in Sri Lanka

Capital : Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
Population : 21.6 million
Catholics : 1.55 million (7 %)
Jurisdictions : One Archdiocese, 11 dioceses
Parishes : 448
Major Religions : Buddhism 70.2%, Hinduism 12.6%, Islam 9.7%, Christianity 7.4%, Others 0.1%
According to some records, the Persian merchants who came to Ceylon around 5th century had a Christian settlement and a chapel in the ancient capital of Anuradhapura. A 5th century decorative baptismal pond and ancient crosses excavated also show early presence of Christians in the island nation.

However, the evangelization history starts with the arrival of a Portuguese fleet in Colombo on November 15, 1505, starting a period of mission led by the Franciscan friars. The growth was significant that when the Cochin diocese (southern India) was created in 1558, Sri Lanka was made part of it. During Portuguese rule (1605-1658), Sri Lanka was a fertile mission land for the Jesuits, the Dominicans, and the Augustinians to work.

By then, the Dutch East India Company was already active in the Arabian Sea and the king of Kandy sought the Dutch help in ousting the Portuguese. They succeeded ending the Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka in 1658. But the Dutch feared the Island's Catholic might be loyal to the Portuguese. The Dutch rule (1658-1796) banned all Catholic practices, banished all Catholic priests and ordered capital punishment to anyone harboring a Catholic priest. They also banned Catholic rites and wanted all services be conducted in their Calvinist rites.

For almost three decades, Catholics continued without a priest until Father Joseph Vaz from Goa reached the island disguised as a coolie in 1687. People attending services led by him were initially arrested and jailed but slowly local kings accepted him because he had no backing of the Portuguese and was apolitical in his actions. He died in 1711.

Missioners from India served the Island for a period of 155 years, from the time Father Vaz came to Sri Lanka until the arrival of the first European missionaries in the British period (1842).

The Vicariate Apostolic of Ceylon was created in 1834 and it was divided into Colombo and Jaffna in 1847. When the hierarchy was established in Sri Lanka in 1887, Colombo became an Archdiocese.

Sri Lanka houses 1,552,434 Catholics, representing some 7 percent of the population of 21.6 million.

The Catholics are organized into 12 Dioceses, including an Archdiocese.
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