The land area of the diocese is 50,610 square kilometers. It forms the northern part of Peninsular (West) Malaysia bordering on Thailand. The diocese covers five Northern states which are Penang, Kedah, Perlis, Perak and Kelantan.
Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) is the predominant language, but various dialects of Chinese, and Tamil and English are widely used. (Jenkins,1981)
Penang Diocese experienced Catholicism early in 1766 when Bishop Le Bon and his confreres had to leave Siam for Pondicherry (India). In 1781, traders from Siam told these missionaries there were Christian refugees in Port Quedah (part of Siam at that time, though now in Malaysia.)
On such an event, two priests Fathers Garnault and Caude found a community of about 80 Catholics, comprising mainly of Portuguese Eurasians. They were well received by the Sultan and allowed to build a church.
In 1788 this settlement was abandoned when Captain Francis Light established an English settlement in Penang and invited Father Garnault and his Catholic community to go to Penang. Catholics in Malaysia came under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of Siam until 1841. The territory later became an independent mission station with Msgr. Courvezy as its first Vicar Apostolic. He was in charge of 500 Catholics in Singapore, 2,000 in Penang and 2,000 in Malacca, forming the ecclesiastical district which was called "West Siam."
Pope Leo XIII in 1888 changed the status of the vicariate, and it became known as the Diocese of Melaka, with the bishop resident in Singapore. This arrangement continued until 1955 when Bishop Francis Chan was appointed Bishop of Penang and he had jurisdiction over the states of Penang and Province Wellesley, Perak, Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan. (Jenkins, 1981)
Malaysia is a Federation of States, with a legislative assembly proper to each state. In the 1978 elections all of them came under the control of the National Front, an alliance of parties (UMNO, MCA, MIC, Gerakan) that also controls the Federal government.
The political organisations present in the Diocese are: United Malay National Organization (UMNO), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (GERAKAN), Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Islam Semalaysia (PAS), and Parti Keadilan (PKR). In the March 2008 election, the opposition parties (DAP, PAS, PKR) captured 5 states and they had since then came together to form one coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
The main railway link runs north to south, connecting Singapore at one end of the Peninsula with Thailand at the other. The North-South Highway connects Kayu Hitam in the north and Johor Baru in the south. We also have the East-West Highway connecting the east and the west.
Penang, Ipoh, Alor Setar and Kota Baru are linked by air services. The airport in Penang has been upgraded to international status. Express buses and taxis offer frequent and rapid connections between all major cities and towns. Car ownership in urban areas is relatively high by Asian standards.
Equatorial (hot and wet throughout the year).
In general, Malaysia has a strong and prosperous economy. This is true of the territories included in the Diocese, especially the urban areas of Penang and Ipoh. Leading products are rubber, tin and palm oil. Malaysia's rice is mainly produced in this northern part of the country. (Jenkins, 1981)
However the economic scene has shifted very much since the 1980's with great emphasis now being carried out in the factories linked with ICT technology.
Telecommunications are well developed in the diocese. Various telecommunication companies now offer fixed and cellular telephony services. Telekom Malaysia Berhad is the main operator of telecommunication services. On the international scene, TM connects the diocese to the rest of the world via submarine cable systems and satellite. We enjoy International Direct Dial (IDD) facility. Dial 1515 is one of the services offered by TMnet which allows users to connect to the Internet over normal telephone lines using modems. Cellular telephony services started with CELCOM Sdn. Bhd. in January 1988 and was then followed by DIGI, Telekom and Maxis telecommunication companies. (Malaysia Year Book, 2000).
Some 28.55 percent of the population in the diocese attend school. In the diocesan area there are 203 kindergartens; 1,889 primary schools (six years); 460 secondary schools (five years, plus another two for pre-university); and two universities, one poly-technical college, two teachers training colleges, and several private colleges. (Jenkins, 1981)
Some private colleges cater for courses leading to foreign professional and other diplomas and degrees. The most recent development has been the introduction of twinning programmes.
Malaysia is a complex nation culturally. No specific 'Malaysian' identity or culture has yet emerged. The National culture is rather along four parallel streams which involve Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western civilizations and cultures. This can present problems for the local Church. A suitable local liturgy has not quite evolved as it is possible communication problems can arise though most speak Malay, English or both. (Jenkins, 1981).
Some parishes have adopted the use of three or four languages during the celebration of Masses.
This fabled church is also known by its Syriac name Mar Sleeva (Holy Cross) Church
St. Mary’s Cathedral Church in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, is the mother church in the tribal belt of eastern India, where Belgian Jesuits laid the foundation of Catholicism in 19th century. This brownish Church, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, stands on Dr. Camil Bulcke Path and nestles between St. Xavier’s College and St. Albert Major Seminary.
Basilica of Our Lady of Graces in Sardhana is a historic church that lives the memory of love and benevolence of the sole female Roman Catholic ruler in India. Our Lady of Graces Church of Sardhana stands at Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh of northern India. Consecrated in 1822, this 200-feet long church with a high central dome over the main altar, is one of the largest churches in northern India.
Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica at Mylapore is a monumental declaration on ancient root of Christianity in India. The church was built over the tomb of St. Thomas, the Apostle who is believed to have preached Christianity in India. The cathedral preserves 2000-year-old bones of the saint and the lance that pierced him to death. Popularly known as Santhome Church, the cathedral at Chennai (formerly Madras) in Tamil Nadu state was constructed during the Portuguese era in the 16th century. “San Thome” assumes its name from St. Thomas.
St. Joseph’s Church in Lahore is the oldest Catholic Church in Pakistan that has flourished since the 19th century despite deadly sectarian violence in recent years. The church at Sarfaraz Rafiqui Road in Lahore was established as a wooden structure during the British colonial era, on Oct. 31, 1842, to provide pastoral care to the British soldiers. It completed 180 years this year.
Mokama Marian shrine on the southern bank of Ganges River bears the legacy persecuted Nepali Catholics banished from their homeland to India for refusing to renounce their faith. Our Lady of Divine Grace Church at Mokama stands about 90 kilometers from Patna, the capital of eastern Indian state of Bihar. Mother Mary is popularly known as Mokama Mata (Mother of Mokama). The church was built to honor Mary in 1947.
The Cathedral of Good Shepherd in Singapore is a historic National Monument, but it also holds first-class relics of a French saint who brought Catholicism on the shores of city-state two centuries ago. Built in 1847, the Good Shepherd Cathedral is the oldest Catholic Church and mother church of all Catholic churches in Singapore.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica at Fort Kochi is one of the finest churches and a historic but also a landmark in Kerala state of southern India. Santa Cruz Church blends Indo-European and Gothic architectural style that draws tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year. The cathedral is a great place of devotion and historic significance that survived colonial conquests and invasions to the city.