The New Evangelization - Asia

Afghanistan 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.

In the 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 Armenia. 

.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 1993.

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.

ChinaPeople’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 the Boxer 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 12 million 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, and also 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 the population.

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: Catholics 3%.

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, Catholicism 1.7%.

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 established 1891.

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 the population.

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.