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 Atambua

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Diocese of Atambua
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The apostolic vicariate of West Timor was erected on May 25, 1936, with Divine Word Father Jacobus Pessers as its first apostolic vicar. He was ordained a bishop on June 16, 1937. Atambua became the center of the apostolic vicariate. Catholics numbered about 42,000 in West Timor, served by 19 Divine Word priests, three brothers, and 12 Servants of the Holy Spirit sisters.

On Jan. 28, 1941, the Catholic Church in Timor was blessed with the ordination of its first son, Father Gabriel Manek, who later became apostolic vicar of Larantuka and then archbishop of Ende. He was born in Lahurus.

The name of the vicariate waschanged to Atambus in 1948, and two years later, on Sept 8, 1950 and it established its minor seminary in Lalian, 9 kilometers south of Atambua. In 1957, the Divine Word Society Timor region set up the St. Joseph Formation House to train Timorese youths who wanted to become religious brothers.

Atambua became a diocese on Jan. 3, 1961. Its first diocesan priest was ordained five years later. On Aug. 15, 1967, Atambua diocese was divided in two, one of the halves becoming Kupang diocese, which was elevated to an archdiocese in 1989.

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