Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Catholicism in the Philippines

“…500 years have passed since the Christian message first arrived in the Philippines. You received the joy of the Gospel... And this joy is evident in your people … We see it in your eyes, on your faces, in your songs and in your prayers. In the joy with which you bring your faith to other lands …”

~ Pope Francis said in his homily of the Mass at the Vatican on March 14, formally opening the yearlong celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Catholicism’s arrival in the Philippines.

A country of 7,641 islands at the sea of southeast Asia with a population of 109 million, of which more than 10 million are migrants living in almost 100 countries across the world.

Why the Pope calls Filipinos “smugglers of faith”? What makes the local Church so unique?

What is the Catholic population in the country? How many dioceses, bishops are there?

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Diocese of Rajshahi

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Diocese of Rajshahi
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On May 21, 1990, the Diocese of Rajshahi was canonically erected, incorporating the southern portion of the greater Diocese of Dinajpur.

The total population was 19,072,080 in 2017. In addition to Bangla, different tribal languages such as Santali, Oraon (Kuruk and Sadri), Mahali and Paharia are also spoken by indigenous people in the diocesan territory.


The total population of 2017 was 19,072,080. In addition to the wide use of Bangla, different tribal languages such as Santali, Oraon (Kuruk and Sadri), Mahali and Paharia are also spoken by indigenous people in the diocesan territory.


The evangelisation began there at the request of Gabriel Topno, a Munda tribal Christian and a leper, who migrated from Chota Nagpur in the Indian village of Begunbari, two miles south of the present Beneedwar parish.

Father Francesco Rocca, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Milan (PIME), came from Pakuria in Meherpur district to the south of the mighty Ganges on January 29, 1902, to provide pastoral assistance to Topno and his family. He subsequently continued preaching the Gospel in the area.

Within eight years of his arrival, there were already large Christian communities among the Mundas in Begunbari, Mahalis in Chokjodu and Santals in Beneedwar. Crossing the Ganges, the Mal-Paharias came to build the Iswardi-Amnura Railway Tracks. The Christian missionaries also crossed the river and walked along the railway tracks, preaching the Good News. The first Mal-Paharias of Andharkota were baptized on February 21, 1904, by Father S. Taveggia, PIME.

From a humble beginning in Begunbari and Andharkota, Catholic faith gradually spread among the Adibasis throughout the Diocese of Rajshahi. In 1925, many Bengali Christians from Bhawal areas of the Archdiocese of Dhaka started migrating to the greater districts of Pabna and Rajshahi due to economic reasons.

Three parishes were gradually established for their pastoral care, in Bonpara (1940), Mothurapur (1947) and Mariabad/Borni (1949). Mothurapur belonged to the Archdiocese of Dhaka until 1976, when it was transferred to the Diocese of Dinajpur. With the growth and extension of the Church in northern Bengal, there arose a need to create a new diocese which comprised eight southern districts of the Diocese of Dinajpur.

Bishop Theotonius Gomes C.S.C., the then Bishop of Dinajpur, initiated the process of erection of the Diocese of Rajshahi. It was announced on May 21, 1990, and the Bishop Patrick D'Rozario C.S.C. was appointed the first bishop of the new diocese. After five years of strenuous pastoral and organisational works of the new diocese, Msgr. D'Rozario was transferred to the seaport Diocese of Chittagong, and he became its second native bishop on February 3, 1995. Father Julian Rozario guided the diocese as the administrator of the Sede Vacante of Rajshahi Diocese until Father Paulinus Costa, the then vicar general of Dhaka, was named, consecrated and took possession of the diocese on April 26, 1996.


There is no separate political structure in the diocesan territory. There are some Parliament seats for Rajshahi, and the citizens elect their representatives to those seats. No serious disruption of democracy is seen in the region. Minorities can vote and take part in politics without any pressure. The people of Rajshahi city have the opportunity to elect their mayor for the Rajshahi city corporation.


Rajshahi is connected to all parts of the country by land, and to some extent by air. Buses, trains and private vehicles are the main modes of transport. Rajshahi city can be reached by domestic airplanes. Roads and highways connect the city to towns and to rural areas of the diocese.


The territory is located between 88.15 and 89.80 degrees longitude (East) and between 23.75 and 25.25 latitude (North).

The diocese covers a total land area of 18,063 sq. km. It comprises nine civil districts. The Padma, which is known as the Ganges in West Bengal, enters into the country through the diocesan territory.


The per capita income of the diocesan territory is equivalent to $463. The main agricultural products of the area are rice and mango. The varieties of mangoes produced in the Rajshahi territory are famous for their unique taste.


There are many cell phone service providers, in addition to government and private land phone service providers. Cell phones are popularly in use.


The overall literacy rate of the diocesan territory is 47 percent (as per 2001 Census).

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