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 Ruteng

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Diocese of Ruteng
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In a land area of 7,136 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers three districts namely Manggarai, West Manggarai, and East Manggarai. It borders with Sape strait in the west, archdiocese of Ende in the east, Flores Sea in the north, and Sawu Sea in the south.


Catholics in the diocese consist mostly of Flores people and a few of Javanese people.


During 1910-1911, Jesuit missioners had visited the west of Manggarai. On May 17, 1912, Jesuit Father P. Loojmans baptized the first Catholics in Reo, including Katarina (Arbero), Henricus, Agnes Mina, Caecilia Weloe, and Helena Loekoe.

Divine Word missionaries then came to Ruteng in 1914. Several mission stations were established from 1929 to 1957.

In 1925, there were 7,036 Catholics in two parishes. On Sept. 29, 1929, the deanery of Manggarai was established and Divine Word Father Thomas Koning served as the dean. In 1929, Catholics began building the cathedral and finished it in 1931. On March 8, 1951, the deanery of Manggarai was elevated into apostolic vicariate of Ruteng. Divine Father Wihelmus van Bekkum was chosen as the apostolic vicar. He was ordained bishop on May 13, 1951.

On Jan. 3, 1961, the apostolic vicariate of Ruteng was elevated into a diocese. Divine Word Bishop Wihelmus van Bekkum served as its first bishop. He retired on Jan. 31, 1972.

Divine Father Vitalis Djebarus was chosen as his successor and ordained as the second bishop of Ruteng on May 5, 1973. However, the bishop was then appointed as the bishop of Denpasar diocese in 1981.

On Dec. 3, 1984, Holy See appointed Divine Word Father Eduardus Sangsun as the bishop of Ruteng. His Episcopal ordination was on March 25, 1985. The bishop passed away on Oct. 14, 2008. Father Laurens Sopang has since served as diocesan administrator.

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