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 Padang

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Diocese of Padang
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The history of Padang diocese can be divided into three periods: 7th-18th centuries, colonization (1807-1952), and development (1953 to present).

7th-18th centuries

According to an Arabian wanderer's note written in Arabic, Christianity was first introduced to the people of Sumatra Island in the 7th century. A Catholic Church, St. Mary Church, was established in Barus in the Central Tapanuli and Aceh border area. At that time, Barus was an important trading center for Indians (Malabar) coming to find camphor. Many of them were Christians, who came along with their priests.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch East India Company (VOC, Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) entered the area together with Dutch traders. This caused a trade conflict between Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British traders. Generally, the Dutch traders were Protestants, the Portuguese were Catholics and the British were Anglicans.

In 1639, two Catholic priests arrived. They were Carmelite Fathers Dionisius and Redemptus.

Colonization Period

In the early 19th century, the Dutch government dissolved VOC and allowed for the spiritual formation of Catholics living in its colonized area. In 1807, the apostolic prefecture of Batavia (now Jakarta) was established. Then came Dutch missionaries and French missionary priests. In 1834, two French missioners, Father Johannes Jacobus Candahl and Father A. Galabert of the Societe de Mission Etrangeres de Paris (MEP, Paris Foreign Missions Society) worked in Padang. But the French missioners were forced by the Dutch colonial ruler to leave the Dutch area in 1835. In 1838, Padang had a resident priest and about 1,000 Catholics, who included Dutch soldiers, civil servants, Eurasians and people of Chinese descent.

In 1853, a priest came to South Tapanuli, but he died a year later. In 1854, the Dutch government issued a law that forbade Catholic and Protestant Churches from doing evangelization work in the same territory. In 1857, a Protestant started evangelization work in South Tapanuli. In 1878, due to the increase of Catholics, a parish was founded in Medan. Other parishes followed.

On June 30, 1911, the apostolic prefecture of Sumatra was founded. Monsignor Liberatus Cluts was its first prefect. His term of office was from 1911-1921. He was succeeded by Monsignor Brans, OFM Cap, who served from 1921-1954. He then resigned and returned to the Netherlands.

On June 27, 1952, the apostolic prefecture of Padang was founded. Monsignor Pasquale De Martino, SX, served as its first prefect until Jan. 3, 1961.

Development Period

The apostolic prefecture of Padang became a diocese on Jan. 3, 1961. On Jan. 6, 1962, Monsignor Raimundo C. Bergamin, SX, was ordained its first bishop. On June 11, 1983, Monsignor Martinus Dogma Situmorang, OFM Cap, was ordained its second bishop.


The diocese of Padang includes West Sumatra and Riau provinces as well as the Kerinci district of Jambi province.

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