The diocese stretches over a land area of 3,952.1 square kilometers. "Mannar" means "deer river" or "silt river." Mannar has an ancient port known as Manthai or Mathoddam, meaning "mango garden." The main feature of the town is this Portuguese fort. Malwattu Oya, the second longest river in Sri Lanka, runs through Mannar.
Mannar is part of the "Catholic belt"' extending from Negombo to Jaffna. The Portuguese first arrived in Colombo and established Catholicism in areas around Chilaw. They also expanded. Thus, the whole Gulf of Mannar can be called a "Catholic belt."
The primary economic activities are crop cultivation (mainly paddy), fisheries and animal husbandry.
Fishing is a major contributor to the local economy of Mannar. It provides the principal source of livelihood for a large portion of the population.
The civil war in the northern and eastern regions over the last 25 years have resulted in displacement of people and destruction of a large segment of Mannar. The Government Agent's (GA's) office in Mannar estimated the population of the district as 97,101. This figure includes 5,276 displaced families (21,632 individuals).
A large number of houses were damaged or destroyed during the conflict which began in 1983. More than half of the houses were completely destroyed. The education sector has been badly affected by the conflict. Though 90 of 111 schools are functioning, many of the original structures of the schools are damaged or destroyed.Bishop Joseph Rayappu heads the Mannar diocese, which covers the districts of Mannar and Vavuniya. The diocese is in the predominantly Tamil area, which is being bitterly fought over by the army and the Tamil Tiger rebels.
The Catholic diocese of Mannar dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu. The Madhu shrine is one of the ancient churches in Asia.
Mannar diocese was founded on Jan. 29, 1981, and is located in northwestern Sri Lanka. It is adjacent to Jaffna in the north, Chilaw in the south, and Trincomalee in the southeast.
Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam was consecrated its first bishop. The diocese began with 12 diocesan priests and 15 parishes but today there are 47 diocesan priests and 28 parishes. The martyrdom of 600 Catholics in 1544 sowed the seeds of the diocese.
Some 400 years ago, a Tamil king in Sri Lanka killed 600 Tamils including women and children who had converted to Catholicism. These people are known as the Martyrs of Mannar.
In Mannar diocese, the population was 347,732 at end of 2016. (The population of the whole country 21,670,000.) Most residents are Tamils.
Mannar is located in the driest region of the country. For a variety of reasons, many areas in the district suffer shortages of drinking water.
Standard Tamil language is in use
Geographically, most of Mannar is on the mainland, within the arid and dry zone characterized by high temperatures and low rainfall. Monthly temperatures range between 26.5 and 30 degrees Celsius with high temperatures normally recorded between May and August. Mannar receives nearly 60 percent of its rainfall during the northeast monsoon, which lasts from October to December.
On every first Friday of the month thousands of Catholics flock to Holy Cross Church of Cherpunkal in Kerala, India to revere Infant Jesus and St. Thomas, the founder of the church. The church stands on the southern bank of Meenachil River. This fabled church, also known by its Syriac name Mar Sleeva (Holy Cross)Church, belongs to Catholic Diocese of Palai of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar 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.
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.
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.