Banmaw Diocese is situated in the southeast part of the Kachin State and borders China to the east, Myitkyina Diocese to the northwest, Mandalay Archdiocese and Lashio Diocese to the south.
Banmaw diocese includes Banmaw, Momauk, Shwegu and Mansi administrative townships. It is approximately 10,741 square kilometers with a civil population of about 407,326. They live intercultural with diverse ethnic people such as Burmese, Kachin, Karen, Shan, Chinese, Indian, and different tribes with their own dialects. The majority of the Catholic population of 26,709 lives scattered in a hilly area, the rest on lower lands. There are 10 parishes and 3 quasi-parishes with 18 priests, over 58 religious, 149 catechists, 9 major seminarians and about 28 minor seminarians in Banmaw diocese.
The greater part of the diocese is mountainous with problems of transportation or telecommunication. The Ayeyarwaddy, the main river of the country flows through the western part of the region, north to south, providing water resources and means of transport and irrigation.
Land roads and very occasional plane services facilitate travel in parts of the diocese, but most of the hill sections have to be covered on foot. 60 percent of the roads are paved with tar and 40 percent with stone gravel. All the parish centers can be reached by car but some of them are accessible only by cars with four wheel drive under weather good conditions during the dry season.
The early works in the Diocese of Banmaw trace back to the time of the great legendary Missionary Bishop Paul Ambrose Bigandet MEP. He was then the vicar of Pegu, the lower Burma, under the Colonial English Rule and the vicar of Ava which was the Kingdom of Burmese Kings in upper Burma. In 1856, Bishop Paul Bigandet visited Ava, he then realized that Yunan province of China was easily connected by this route to contact a French Missionary who has been in China.
He again visited upper Burma, in 1865, and came to see Banmaw town then surrounded by a wall and with a population of 2,700 inhabitants. The Kachins in the hills around Banmaw and the bishop came to know that these places were a good area for future missionary work. The bishop then sent Father Louis Biet to Banmaw in 1872 and then Father Liyet in 1873. Followed by Father Lecomte in 1874.
The beginning of Mission work
In 1874, Father Biet and Liyet went along with the Kachin people to Sama Village, 20 miles east of Banmaw. In 1875 Father Cadoux came to stay with them in Sama.
Father Cadoux and Father Lecomte went up 16 miles north of Sama along the hills and by boat along Tahkaw Stream to Gauri Krung, finally arriving at Mahtang village. The people in that area were very suspicious of the white men because an English military expedition had been launched under the supervision of Colonel Brone. The two priests were arrested by the locals but with the help of Mahtang Duwa they were set free and returned back to Banmaw.
In 1876, these two priests went the north again along Dawka hills and mostly stayed at Sha-U village. The villagers were very helpful to the priests but they never accepted their faith. Fathers Cadoux and Faure went up further north to look for a better place for their future work. They came to a place about a day's walk in distance from north Mali Nmai Confluence in the east of Nmai Hka river, native place of Maru (Lawngwaw) tribe, but the people in that area never seemed to consider to accept the faith. In the end the missionaries found no place better than Sha-U village.
The Establishment of a Catholic Village
The Kachins were animist, they accepted Gospel teaching but never wanted to convert to Christianity, since they were afraid of the community who might blame them for their convertion. For these reasons, the French priests wanted to establish a separate new village for those who wanted to become Catholic. Apart from these difficulties, cerebral malaria was rampant and the work did not progress much. From 1873-1901, a total of 14 priests either died or returned of wreaked health.
In 1902, Father Charles Giholdes was coming to stay in Prang Hkudung village, 30 miles north east of Banmaw and the Catholic mission among the Kachins started to grow. The priest introduced coffee to this area and trained the people to grow vegetables and fruits systematically with imported seeds. He opened a school with the help of Franciscan Sisters educating the people in that area. Graduates of this school join civil servants, military, police, some teachers and catechist spread in many area of Kachin land.
Father Claude Roche was also one of the outstanding missionaries among Shans who came to stay at Nanhlaing and built St. Michael church there between 1923 and 1928, the first brick church ever built in this area.
From 1872-1939, 31 French priests were serving the people in Banmaw area, with some Karen Catechists. The well known among the people were Sara Shwe Bo, Sara Than Kleik, Sara Than Maing and Sara Saw Nan.
Arrival of the Coulmban Fathers
The arrival of the first Columban Fathers from Ireland gave great joy to the veteran missionaries. Divine providence was there once again to spearhead the entire work of evangelization with new vigour and fresh hopes. The first Columban missionaries set foot in Banmaw at the end of Oct. 1936 and the number increased. Up to that time, the Banmaw Mission was under the pastoral care of the Mandalay diocese and the number of faithful was about 3,000.
In 1939, the Holy See formally erected the the Prefecture Apostolic of Banmaw, incorporating the districts of Banmaw, Myitkyina and Katha. In the same year on Feb. 11, at the village of Manmawkawng in Gauri krung French Missionaries officially handed over the mission to the Columban Fathers. Father Patrick Usher was named the first Prefect Apostolic. The Second World War disrupted the growing mission activities, and priest and nuns had to take refuge in Mandalay leprosy colony. When they came back in 1945, the war had left nothing for them. They had to start everything from the beginning.
The courageous Monsignor Patrick Usher died in 1958; consoled by the splendid recovery of the mission after the devastating years of war, fostering good hope for the future of the Church in Banmaw-Myitkyina area. The Vicar Delegate and Pro-prefect Father John Howe succeeded Monsignore Usher and a magnificent church was built in Banmaw. Archbishop J.R. Knox who was then the Apostolic Delegate for Myanmar blessed the church building in 1960.
Establishment of Myitkyina Diocese
In 1961, the Prefecture Apostolic became the diocese of Myitkyina and in the same year Monsignor John Howe was consecrated Bishop of Myitkyina by Archbishop U Win of Mandalay. On March 27, 1965, Monsignor John Howe and the local Church had one of their greatest joys in ordaining the first Kachin priest, Paul Zinghtung Grawng, followed by Father Lawt Thomas Nawhkum Naw.
Soon after the events of 1964 and 1966, the Columban Fathers began to concretely prepare for handling over the care of the diocese to the local clergy and people. They chose and trained priests, religious, catechists and the faithful for the seminary, catechist school, the liturgy and religious instruction and formation.
On April 3, 1976, Bishop Howe with the mandate and blessing of Pope Paul VI ordained Father Paul Grawng as his auxiliary bishop. The following year the diocese was handed over to the indigenous clergy who then numbered 10 and the Columbans completely left in 1979.
Creation of Banmaw Diocese
Banmaw was part of Myitkyina Diocese until Aug. 28, 2006 when Pope Benedict XVI created a new Diocese of Banmaw, suffragan to the Archdiocese of Mandalay, and appointed Monsignor Raymond Sumlut Gam as the first Bishop of the Diocese. On Nov. 17, 2006 the new diocese was blessed and on Nov. 18, 2006 the new Bishop of Banmaw Monsignor Raymond Sumlut Gam was ordained and installed by Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, Bangkok-based apostolic delegate to Myanmar.
Road transport is the main route way in Banmaw District. Traffic ways to the remote villages are still very poor due to lack of roads and transport. Car, flight and boat transportation on the Ayeyarwaddy River are main routes of transport to other parts of the country. There is internet telephone, post office and telecommunication access available.
The area is surrounded by high mountains in the East and West, whereas there is large plain lowland towards the south. The Ayeyarwaddy River flows from north to south, dividing the area into an eastern and western side. Many small streams and brooks from the east and west join the big river across the area. Tarpain River originates from China, flows from east to west and joins the Ayeyarwaddy near Banmaw Township. Likewise, Shweli River flows from east to west across the area and joins Ayeyarwaddy near Thabeikkyin Township in Mandalay Division. The area is rich in diversity of landscape, with many rivers, mountains, slopes, flat lands and natural ponds. Its natural geographical diversity hosts large varieties of life, forest resources and wildlife and fish. The area contains precious timber, teak, cane, bamboo and other species. Ruby and coal are main mineral resources from the area.
There are a University in Banmaw and a number of high schools, primary and secondary schools. But in remote villages, there is a lack of even primary schools. Clinics and dispensaries, hospitals and medical care are available in the towns and nearby while the people in far remote villages face health care problems.
There are Kachin, Burmese, Karen, Shan and other ethnic minorities, some Indians and Chinese people living in the area. Christianism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are main religious; animism exists in far remote areas.