Belthangady diocese was created on April 24, 1999, from the archdiocese of Tellicherry to provide pastoral care for Syro-Malabar Catholics of Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu and Udupi districts in Karnataka state. Their history in these 12, 453 square kilometers goes back more than 50 years.
The main languages spoken in the diocesan territory are Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Malayalam, English and Coorgie.
In the middle of the 20th century, many people migrated from southern Kerala to northern Kerala, southern Karnataka and southwestern Tamil Nadu. Many Syro-Malabar Catholics migrated to Karnataka, mainly Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts, in the 1950s. Availability of agricultural land and governmental encouragement spurred the migration.
Initially, the Latin dioceses of Mangalore, Mysore and Chikmagalur tended to the spiritual needs of these Oriental-rite Catholics. Then in 1955, the territory of Tellicherry archdiocese, which Pope Pius XII erected to serve these Catholics in northern Kerala's Malabar region, was extended to include the area covered by the Latin dioceses.
CMI priests and priests from Tellicherry archdiocese took up pastoral work in these areas, but language and cultural differences hindered them, so the development of the parishes in Karnataka remained far behind that of parishes in Kerala.
When the diocese of Mananthavady was formed in 1973 covering most of these districts in Karnataka, the districts of Dakshina Kannada (including the present Udupi district) and Kodagu remained under the archdiocese of Tellicherry. But in recognition of their special needs, they were formed into a mission province of the archdiocese of Tellicherry in 1979. Father Peter Koottiany was the episcopal vicar of the mission until May 16, 1997, laying the groundwork for the eventual creation of a separate diocese.
Father Lawrence Mukkuzhy succeeded Father K.M. Peter as the second episcopal vicar and was appointed the first bishop of Belthangady when the diocese was erected on April 24, 1999. His ordination as bishop and the formal inauguration of the diocese both took place on Aug. 4, 1999.
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