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 Larantuka

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Diocese of Larantuka
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The diocese of Larantuka covers two districts — Flores Timur and Lembata — in the eastern part of Flores Island as well as the small islands of Adonara, Lembata and Solor.


The predominant ethnic group is the Lamaholot tribe.


The arrival of Portuguese Missioners taught Catholicism and even baptized some people. In 1556, another Portuguese merchant ship stopped at the island due to the bad weather. Its captain taught Catholicism to the king of Solor and baptized him. Portuguese missioners coming later to the island continued what had the Portuguese traders had begun.

Under the guidance of Dominican missioners, the Church in Solor grew. The first missioner was Father Antonio de Taceira. Fathers Antonio da Cruz and Simeo da Chagas as well as Brother Alexio then followed. The Dominicans baptized 25,000 people and established 25 mission stations in East Flores.

On Dec. 19, 1851, the Portuguese and Dutch concluded a treaty that marked off their areas of control in Nusa Tenggara (the Lesser Sunda Islands). East Flores came under the Dutch, but Portuguese missioners still served people in the area sometimes.

On Aug. 4, 1860, Yohanes Petrus Nikolaus Sanders, a Dutch diocesan priest, arrived in Larantuka. Father Gaspar Hubertus Fransen took over the work the following year and established a school before he returned to the Netherlands in October 1863.

Before Father Fransen left, Jesuit Father Gregorius Metz arrived in Larantuka on April 17, 1963. He established a school in Postoh. This school building later became a church. Afterward, several churches and chapels were built.

Father Metz served people in Larantuka for 20 years. Toward the end of his time, in 1879, Franciscan nuns arrived from Heythuijsen.

On May 4, 1917, Jesuit Father Hoebrects and two Jesuit brothers left Larantuka and Flores. But by that time, the first Divine Word missioner, Father William Bach, had arrived. From 1919 until 1920, about 35 Divine Word priests and brothers came to Nusa Tenggara. They established schools and mission stations.

The Japanese occupied Flores in 1942, during the World War II. They interned most of the Dutch missioners in South Sulawesi, although they allowed Monsignor Hendrik Leven and some priests to continue their pastoral ministry. The first two local priests, members of the Society of the Divine Word, had been ordained just before the occupation, in 1941. One of them was Father Gabriel Manek from West Timor, who served in East Flores.

A new era began after the war ended. San Dominggo Seminary was established in 1950 to prepare young Florinese men to be priests. The first of these native sons was ordained a diocesan priest in 1963, two years after the establishment of Larantuka diocese, Ende archdiocese, and Ruteng diocese covering, eastern, central and western Flores respectively. Thirty-five years later, the number of diocesan priests reached 78.

Meanwhile, In 1958, Bishop Manek, at that time apostolic vicar of Larantuka, established the Daughters of the Rosary Queen (PRR) for local women who wanted to become religious. The congregation now serves in 12 dioceses across Indonesia as well as overseas.

1951, the apostolic vicariate of the Lesser Sunda Islands was divided into three apostolic vicariates: Ende, Ruteng, and Larantuka. When Pope John XXIII established the Indonesian hierarchy in 1961 these became an archdiocese and two dioceses. Bishop Manek became the first archbishop of Ende, while Divine Word Bishop Antonius Hubertus Thijssen succeeded him as the head of Larantuka diocese.

In 1974, Bishop Thijssen was transferred to Denpasar diocese, and Monsignor Darius Nggawa, SVD, took over as head of Larantuka diocese. When he retired in 2004, Coadjutor Bishop Fransiskus Kopong Kung succeeded him as the first diocesan bishop of Larantuka.

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