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 Galle

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Diocese of Galle
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The diocese covers a land area of 5,605.6 square kilometers and includes the districts of Galle, Matara and Hambanthota. Galle is the main town in the most southerly part of the island of Sri Lanka, with a population of around 2, 277,145. It is 119 kilometers away from the capital city, Colombo. This is one of the ancient cities in Sri Lanka. It was known as Gimhathiththa before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it was the country's main port. Arabs, Greeks, Persians, Romans and Indians conducted business through Galle.

The modern history of Galle started in 1505, when the first Portuguese ship, under Loureno de Almeida, was driven there by a storm. Galle is a good example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and Southeast Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and south Asian traditions.

However, Galle had been a prominent seaport long before. Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC and it had been the main entreport for the spice.

In 1640, the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch built the present fort in the year 1663. They built a fortified wall, using solid granite, and built three bastions, known as "sun," "moon" and "star."

The Galle Fort is a world heritage site and the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European invaders. Other prominent landmark in Galle includes the St. Mary's Cathedral founded by Jesuit priests.

On Dec. 26, 2004 the city was devastated by the massive tsunami caused by the earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. Thousands died in the city alone.

The total population is about 2,964,000 of whom 9,118 are Catholics. Besides a few Europeans and Tamils of mixed descent, the population includes Sinhalese. There is great religious diversity -- Hindus, Muslims, Catholics and other Christians. Most of the people are Buddhists. Catholics are scattered over a large area.

Galle is a predominantly Buddhist area. The diocese was founded on Aug. 25,1893. Galle diocese's patron saint is St. Mary and the diocese covers the whole of the south. Galle diocese is adjacent to Kurunegalla in the north, Badulla in the East and Colombo in the west.

The first bishop of the diocese was Bishop Giuseppe Van Reeth, SJ, from Belgium (1893-1923) and the first local bishop was Bishop Anthony De Saram (1965-1982).


Standard Sinhala is in use. Tamil and English are taught as second languages in public schools. English is widely spoken and understood in tourist areas.

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