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 Yichang

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Diocese of Yichang
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In a land area of 21,277 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers Enshi, Jingmen and Yichang administrative districts that include 23 cities and counties along the midstream of the Yangtze River.


Yichang has a population of 4,039,000 with urban population of 1,444,200 as of 2008. (The population of the whole country is about 1.3 billion). It is home of the Tujia ethnic group. Yichang Catholics come mostly from the predominant Han and minority Miao and Tujia ethnic groups.

According to Bishop Lu, two-thirds of the 30,000 Catholics in the diocese are rural people, but many teenagers and adults are studying or working in cities outside their hometown. "Pastoral care for the mobile Catholic population is a challenging task," acknowledged the bishop.


Mandarin Chinese (the official language in China) and Yichang dialect.


French Jesuit missioners introduced Catholicism to Yichang in 1661. Formerly called Southwestern Hubei apostolic vicariate, it was renamed Yichang in 1923 and became one of the 137 dioceses in China in 1946, when the Vatican established the Church hierarchy in the country.

According to the Pontifical Yearbook, the diocese had in 1950 a number of 15,078 Catholics representing 0.3 percent of the population of 5,000 000. There was a total of 46 priests (31 diocesan, 15 religious) and 77 female Religious serving 156 parishes.


Yichang has an airport and is well connected by highways. It is an important river port on the Yangtze. There are railway services to Wuhan, Beijing and a few other major cities.


The area has a sub-tropical monsoonal climate, with a temperature averages 13-18 degrees Celsius. It has a mean annual precipitation of 1,000-1,400 mm.


Yichang has long been a major transit port and distribution center of goods. It is fueled by the Gezhouba Hydra Project (Gezhouba Dam) and the Three Gorges Dam, which is 40 kilometers upstream.

The construction of the dams has speeded up the development of Yichang from a small city into a medium-size city.


The Xiling Gorge, the easternmost of the Three Gorges on the Yangtze River, is located within Yichang. Yangtze River is joined within the city by a number of tributaries, including the Qing River (left), Xiangxi and Huangbo Rivers (right).

The geographic features of Yichang are quite different. There are mountains and forest in the west, but there is a vast stretch of flat fertile land in the east, where natural resources are rich.

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