– Republic in south-central Asia: capital, Kabul. The land was
Christian until overcome by Muslim conquest in the 7th century. Today
all inhabitants are subject to law of Islam. Under the Taliban regime,
religious freedom was restricted and proselytizing forbidden. In January
2002, after the Taliban was removed from power, the first public Mass
was celebrated in 10 years, at the Italian Embassy.
Armenia – Republic
in Asia Minor: capital, Yerevan. Armenia was the first state to become
officially Christian, in 301—79 years before Christianity became the
religion of the Roman Empire. Ancient Armenia included territory annexed by Turkey in 1920, and the remainder
belonged to USSR till 1991. Established diplomatic relations with the Holy
See in 1992. The Armenian Church separated from the Catholic Church in rejecting
the Council of Chalcedon (451). This disagreement, Christological in
nature, was laid to rest in December 1996, when Pope John
Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I together signed a formal
theological statement indicating their shared
belief. There appears to be no theological barrier to full unity, and
Pope John Paul has made no secret of his desire to
restore full communion between Rome and Echmiadzin.
Middle Ages, a minority of western Armenians were converted to Roman
Catholicism through contact with the Crusaders. (Even today residents of
Catholic villages are called "Franki," after the Frankish
Crusaders.) This led to the Armenian Catholic Rite, in communion with
Rome. An Armenian Catholic patriarchate was set up in Lebanon in 1742.
Early in the 20th century, Armenians suffered at
the hands of the Ottoman Turks, being forced to flee from their homes. 1.5
million died in the persecution, with most of the rest scattered around
the world. What remained of Armenia outside Turkey came under the Soviet
Union, when almost all Armenian Catholic clergy were killed. Since the
collapse of the Communist regime, and the arrival of Armenian
independence ten years ago, the Church has revived and the Catholic
hierarchy was restored in 1992. A new seminary is planned to offset the
shortage of priests. Catholics make up 4% of the people of
.Azerbaijan – A republic on
the Caspian Sea: capital Baku. Its history is linked with Armenia,
Persia (Iran), and Russia. Conquered by Persia in the 4th century, it
fell with Persia to Islam in the 7th century. After successive
conquests by Mongols (13th cent.) and Tartars (14th cent.), Azerbaijan
again became part of Persia in 1603. In 1828, it was acquired by
Russia. After the Russian Revolution, it was incorporated into the USSR
(1920). Independence came in 1991, with the fall of Soviet Communism. In
the last decade, political life has been dominated by conflict with
Armenia over a region within Azerbaijan, peopled mostly by
Armenians. The prevailing religion is Islam, with a small number of Polish and Armenian Catholics
ministered to by missionaries. For Latin-rite Catholics, the apostolic
administration of Caucasus, with its seat in Georgia, was established in
Bahrain – Island state in the Persian
Gulf: capital, Manama. Under Portuguese rule
(1507-1662), then Iranian (till 1782), became independent in 1783. For a
hundred years (1861-1961) it was a British protectorate, then became an
independent Emirate under British protection. In 1971 it became an
independent nation. Established diplomatic relations with Holy See in
2000. Muslim state. Catholics, making up 4.3% of population, are
mostly foreign workers under jurisdiction of Arabia apostolic vicariate.
Bangladesh – Republic in S Asia:
capital, Dhaka. Formerly the eastern part of Pakistan, Bangladesh became
independent 1971. Principle religion, Islam, became state religion 1988,
but freedom of religion granted. Jesuit, Dominican, and Augustinian
missionaries there in 16th century. Apostolic vicariate
(Bengali) set up 1834. Hierarchy in 1950. Church run agencies help
respond to natural disasters. Catholics are .20% of population.
Bhutan – Kingdom in the Himalayas:
capital, Thimphu. State religion, Buddhism.
Freedom of religion, but no proselytizing. Jesuits invited 1963, and
Salesians 1965, to direct schools. Salesians expelled 1982 for
proselytism. Jurisdiction under Darjeeling Diocese. First Bhutanese
priest ordained 1995. Perhaps 400 Catholics in population of 2,090,000.
Brunei – Sultanate under British
protection on NW coast Borneo: capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Islam
official religion. Other religions allowed with restrictions. Most
Catholics foreign technicians and skilled workers. Under jurisdiction of
Miri diocese, Malaysia. Catholics 0.6% of population.
Cambodia – Republic in SE Asia: capital,
Phnom Penh. Evangelization began with the Portuguese, in the second
half of the 16th century, who had more success among the Vietnamese than among
native Khmers. In 1658 Cambodia was included in the Apostolic Vicariate
of Tonkin, administered by the Paris Missions Society. Mission work
declined in the first half of the 18th century, due to civil war and a
culture clash between Khmers and missionaries from Spain. With peace,
progress resumed. In 1850 the Apostolic Vicariate of Cambodia was
formed. In 1863 France declared the country a French protectorate, in
the face of competing claims by Siam and Vietnam. 1861-1865, numerous
Vietnamese Catholics swelled the Catholic population, in flight from
persecution in their own country. In 1950, more than a fifth of the
people of Phnom Penh were Catholics, but the majority of these were
Vietnamese. In 1953 Cambodia gained independence, and in 1957 the first
priest of native origin was ordained. In 1970 Vietnamese Catholics were
forced out by Khmer hostility, greatly reducing the Church in size.
During the Vietnam War, Cambodia tried to remain neutral, but became
embroiled toward the end. In 1975 the government was seized by Communist
guerrillas, the Khmer Rouge, who expelled all foreigners, including
French missionaries. They bombed the Phnom Penh cathedral, where
Catholics had taken refuge. Bishops were assassinated, and all leaders
of the Cambodian Church disappeared. Vietnam invaded in 1978 and
established a new government, but fighting continued when the Vietnamese
withdrew in 1989. A peace treaty was signed in 1991, with
elections held in 1993 and a new constitution guaranteeing religious
freedom. In 1994 diplomatic relations were established with the Holy
See, and in 1997 the Church was given official status by a new
government. Catholics now make up just .15% of the population.
China – People’s Republic
in eastern Asia: capital, Beijing.
Christianity was brought by Syrian monks as early as the 5th or 6th
century. Nestorians spread their doctrine from 635 to 845, and again from
the 11th to 14th centuries. A Franciscan mission was started
in 1294, but ended in 1368. The Jesuits began evangelizing in the 1580s.
To the question of whether Catholic rites
should be adapted to Chinese traditions, Rome answered no. The first
martyr in China, Francis de Capillas, died in 1648. Several
persecutions in the 18th century resulted in the departure of most
missionaries. In the 1840s evangelization began again, but helped provoke
Rebellion at the turn of the century. Missionary activity peaked in the
first half of the 20th century. The hierarchy was established in 1946.
But then followed persecution by the Communists, especially after they
came to power in 1949. Missionary
and pastoral work were outlawed, foreign missionaries expelled, Church
officials arrested, schools and other institutions closed, and the
people denied free access to religion. Priests, religious and lay people
were put to slave labor.
In 1957 the government itself established the Chinese Patriotic
Association, a kind of mirror image of the Catholic Church, subject to
the Communist Party rather than to a "foreigner," the Pope.
For bishops, the government appointed 26 candidates, who were then
ordained, validly but illicitly, without permission from the Holy
See. The Church faithful to the Pope continued underground. Some
bishops in the Patriotic Association may have secretly reconciled with
Rome, and others would likely do so if they didn't fear the government.
On 6 January 2000, the ordination of new Patriotic bishops received less
support than expected from the Patriotic Church, whereas on 7 May a
Chinese bishop was consecrated with Rome's approval, Zhao Fengchang, who
was made Apostolic Administrator. The Pope himself addresses his
encouragement to all Chinese Catholics without distinction. There are an estimated
16 million Catholics in China, or 1.3% of the population, with perhaps
faithful to the Holy See. There are approximately 355,000 Catholics in Hong Kong.
East Timor – Republic in Maylay
Archipelago: capital, Dili. After four centuries of Portuguese colonial
rule, 26 years of occupation by Indonesia, and three years of governance
by the United Nations, East Timor celebrated its independence on 19 May
2002, the first new state to be born in the new millennium. Diplomatic
relations have been established with the Vatican, at the level of
apostolic nunciature on the part of the Holy See and of embassy on the
part of the Democratic Republic of East Timor. Of the total population
of 737,811, 93% are Catholic. The new nation is divided into two
apostolic administrations, Dili and Baucau, with 31 parishes,
administered by 43 priests. There are 220 women religious, and 130 male
religious, the majority of whom are Salesians. The Jesuits were the
first order to come to East Timor, arriving in 1899. They were expelled
in 1910, and returned in 1958. The 350 men and women religious work in
247 educational and welfare institutes.
Independence celebrations began at sunset, with a Mass celebrated by
Bishop Belo. Pope John Paul II sent a message to
the people of Timor for the occasion. As East Timor became part of the
"free nations of the earth," the Holy Father wished "to
share your feeling of exultation, and to encourage you to build a just,
free, supportive, and peaceful society."
Georgia – Republic in Caucasus, formerly belonging to
USSR: capital, Tbilisi. Christianity came through Roman influence. Apostolic
administration of Caucasus (with seat in Georgia) set up 1993 for
Latin-rite Catholics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Chaldean- and
Armenian-rite Catholics also are there. Catholic churches and Armenian
Orthodox churches were closed during Soviet regime, and later turned
over to the Georgian Orthodox Church. Early in 21st century, Catholics
and other denominations have reported harassment from Orthodox mobs. Catholics 1.9% of population.
India – Republic on subcontinent of south central
Asia: capital, New Delhi..
Traditionally, Apostle Thomas introduced Christianity to Kerala area.
Evangelization followed the Portuguese conquest of Goa in 1510. Jesuits,
Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and other religious orders
contributed to the missionary effort. Goa was made an archdiocese in 1558.
Jesuits helped the development of Catholic education from the latter half 18th
century. Missionaries had difficulty with the British East India Co,
which exercised government
control, 1757-1858. Also a conflict between the Portuguese government and
the Vatican over clerical and episcopal appointments resulted in a Goan schism,
1838-1857. The hierarchy for India and Ceylon was established in 1886.
The Syro-Malankar Catholic Church is the "Church of
St. Thomas," as it began with the apostle's preaching. There are
four religious congregations in this Church, which is rooted in India:
the Order of the Imitation of Christ, the religious of the Imitation of
Christ, the Daughters of Mary, and the Kristia Sanyasa Sabha (Christian
Religious Congregation). The Syro-Malankar Church, of the Antioch rite,
regained full communion with Rome in 1930. It retains its special
liturgy in the local tongue, Malayalam.
There have been recent tensions among Syro-Malabar Catholics over liturgy and tradition,
between Latin- and Eastern-rite Catholics over the care of Catholics outside
their traditional boundaries. The country is mainly Hindu, with anti-conversion laws in some states.
Since 1998, violence against Christians has increased. Catholics are concentrated mainly around Goa and Kerala. They make up 1.6% of
Indonesia – Republic in Malay
Archipelago: capital, Jakarta. Evangelization begun by
Portuguese in 1511. St. Francis Xavier spent time in the area. By 1600,
Christianity rooted in some parts, but Islam on the rise. Dutch East
Indies Co gained control 17th century and banned
evangelization by Catholics, but Dutch managed to continue. Vicariate of
Batavia (former name of Jakarta) for all Dutch East Indies set up 1841.
90% population is Muslim.
In last two decades, clashes between Catholics and Protestants. And
in late 90s, between Christians and Muslims. East Timor, former
Portuguese colony annexed by Indonesia in 1976, predominantly Catholic,
wishes to be independent again. East Timor: Catholics 86%. Indonesia:
Iran (Persia till 1935) - Islamic republic, SW
Asia: capital, Teheran. Earliest
Christian communities outside Roman Empire established here. 4th
century persecuted and cut off from Church at large. Nestorianism took
hold here in late 5th century. Islam became dominant in 640.
Later missionary work unsuccessful. Religious liberty granted 1834, but
Catholics massacred 1918. 1980, many Church-run social institutions
nationalized, and Catholic missionaries left the country. Freedom of
worship guaranteed, but Catholic activities monitored by authorities.
Islam religion of 98%. Catholics belong to Latin, Armenian, and Chaldean
rites. .02% of total population.
Iraq - Republic in SW Asia: capital, Baghdad. Some
of the earliest Christian communities were established here. Their history
is similar to that of the early Christians of Iran.
Catholics belong to Latin, Armenian, Syrian, and Chaldean rites, with Chaldeans
(about 500,000) the most numerous. The
Syrian-Catholic Church traces its roots to 1783, with the return of the
Syro-Orthodox Church to communion with Rome. It has about 150,000
members, two-thirds of whom live in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria and
Lebanon, spread over nine dioceses). The rest are abroad, primarily in
the United States. Chaldean and Syrian-Catholic leaders have criticized
the US embargo against Iraq, due to which many Iraqi Christian families
are leaving the country. In 2003, Vatican officials met with
Iraqi leaders in an attempt to prevent the U.S.-led war. The religion of 90% of population is
Islam. Catholics are 1%.
Israel – Parliamentary democracy, Middle
East: capitals, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (diplomatic). Birth place of
Christianity. Some persecution of early Christians by Jews, and under
Roman control, by Romans. Area conquered by Muslims in 7th
century. Except for period of Crusades, Muslims retained hold till WWI.
Church survived, but just barely. British took protectorate of area
right after end to War. 1947 UN approved partitioning Israel from
Palestine. 1948 Israel won more territory from Palestinians, and again
in 1967. Diplomatic relations established with Holy See in 1994, and
Church given legal status 1997. But Palestinian Catholics subject to
persecution. Holy See advocates international statute protecting sacred
nature of Jerusalem. . Judaism is the faith of 85% of population,
Japan – Constitutional monarchy on a
Pacific archipelago off the E coast of Asia: capital, Tokyo. Christianity introduced by
Jesuits mid-16th century with much success. Opposition on the
part of authorities resulted in many martyrs, in particular, the
Nagasaki martyrs, crucified in 1597. Another persecution (1614-1651)
took the lives of 4000 Christians. Missionaries banned for two
centuries, returned mid-19th century to find Christian
communities still surviving in Nagasaki and elsewhere in Kyushu.
Vicariate organized 1866. Religious freedom granted 1889. Hierarchy
The Church in Japan has 514,000 faithful, or about
0.4% of the country's 126 million people,
but it has great social prestige, in part because of its educational
institutions, which range from kindergartens to universities—there are 13 Catholic universities with a total of 35,600
students, including the Jesuits' Sophia University in Tokyo, with an
enrollment of over
11,600—but also its hospitals, founded by the returning missionaries
in the 19th century.
In addition to native Catholics, there are 406,000 immigrant Catholics,
the majority Filipinos. Japan has 25 bishops, 943 parishes, 970 native
Japanese priests and 6,430 women religious. In addition, there are more
than 300 Japanese missionaries abroad; 730 foreign missionaries in
Japan; and three diocesan seminaries.
Jordan – Constitutional monarchy in the
Middle East: capital, Amman. Christian
presence from apostolic times. Survival threatened many times under rule
of Muslims from 636 and Ottoman Turks from 1517 to 1918, and Islamic
Emirate from 1918-1949. Many Palestinian Christians moved to Jordan
after creation of Israel. In 1990s, cared for Iraqi refugees, including
30,000 Chaldean Catholics. State religion is Islam, but religious
freedom guaranteed. Greek Melkite Archdiocese of Petra and Filadefia in
Jordan. Latin-rite Catholics under Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Diplomatic relations with Holy See since 1994. Catholics make up 1% of
Kazakhstan – Independent republic,
formerly part of the USSR: capital, Astana. Declared independence 16
December 1991; it is now part of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
It is the largest of central-Asian republics, though with a population
of only 15 million.. 47% of the population are Muslim, 44% Orthodox, and
2% Protestant, while 1.2% (178,000) are
Catholic. The Catholic population is mainly of German, Polish,
and Ukrainian descent (from those deported under Stalin). A Latin-rite
apostolic administration was established in 1991. A 1998 agreement signed with
Holy See gave the Church legal rights.
Korea, North – People's republic in
the northern part of the peninsula in eastern Asia: capital, Pyongyang.
There was a possible Catholic presence before it closed its borders to foreigners at
the end of 16th century. Catholicism was reintroduced in the
18th century by lay converts, who had read the books of European
missionaries in Chinese. Yi Sung-hun traveled to Beijing to receive
instruction in the faith, and was baptized with the name Peter in 1784.
He returned to Korea to teach and baptize his friends and relatives,
thus founding a fervent Catholic community. In 1795, their first priest,
Fr Chou Wenmou, came from Beijing to a community of 4,000. In 1801,
their number, grown to 10,000, was decimated by persecution. There were
many persecutions through the 19th century, attempting to stamp out
"western religion," with the death of thousands (of whom 103
were canonized in 1984 by John Paul II). In 1886 a treaty between Korea
and France gave relief from persecution, and Catholicism was allowed to
spread. In the 20th century, Japanese occupation during World War II
resulted in the expulsion of foreign priests, the closing of seminaries,
and expropriation of churches. With the advent of Communism, a new reign
of terror began. After liberation from Japan in 1945, the Soviet regime
punished all religions, but especially the Catholic Church and its
clergy. The Korean War gave new pretext to the Communist military to
arrest Catholic clergy and religious. After the War, North Korea
forbade Christian worship
outside the home, until 1988, when the country’s one Catholic church was built
(in Pyongyang). Religious practice is still restricted there. There
are only about 3,000 Catholics (in a population of 22.5 million) and no
priests. The faithful can only pray together.
But there is reason for hope in the contact established between the
government and the Vatican, whose representatives visited the
fourth time in November 1999, with permission to visit the whole country. The
situation in South Korea is much brighter.