The New Evangelization - Asia

Korea, South
(Republic of Korea) - Southern part of the peninsula in eastern Asia: capital, Seoul . (See North Korea for common history prior to split in 1945.) After liberation from Japan, the Church in the South gained religious freedom. Since the Korean war, it has flourished. There are some 150,000 baptized per year, the majority of them adults. Seminaries are full, and this year Korea became the second Asian country, after the Philippines, to open a seminary in Rome. Catholics are 8.8% of the population.

Kuwait – Constitutional monarchy in SW Asia on Persian Gulf: capital, (city of) Kuwait. It has remote Christian origins, probably from apostolic times. Islam is the official religion, but the Church has religious freedom. Catholics are mostly foreign workers, .8% of the population.

Kyrgyzstan – Independent republic on the border of China: capital, Bishkek. Formerly part of the USSR. Majority of the people are Sunni Muslim. The country has had Diplomatic relations with the Holy See since 1992. Catholics .6% of the population.

Laos – People’s republic in SE Asia: capital, Vientiane. Early missionary efforts ended in 1688. Systematic evangelization by French missionaries began in 1881. The first mission was established 1885. An apostolic vicariate was organized in 1899. Most foreign missionaries were expelled after the Communist takeover in 1975. Catholic schools are still banned. Missionaries are allowed in only as "social workers." The state religion is Buddhism. Catholics are .6% of population.

Lebanon – Republic in the Middle East: capital, Beirut. Christianity was introduced in apostolic times, and the country has remained an important center for the Maronite rite since the 7th century despite heavy Muslim influence. Also the Syrian Catholic Church, embracing Catholics in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq,  has its patriarchate in Beirut.  In the 1980s, there was heavy fighting between Christians and Muslims. In 1995, at special synod of bishops, convoked by Pope John Paul II, urged Lebanese to forgive each other the wounds of the war. In 1999 Mid-east and North African Church leaders met in Lebanon to discuss the future of the Church in the Arab world. Catholics are 52% of the population.

Macau (Macao) – Portuguese territory in SE Asia: capital, (city of) Macau; across the Pearl River from Hong Kong. It reverted to Chinese control December 1999. The first mission was by the Jesuits in 1557. A diocese was established 1576. It served as a mission base for work in China and Japan. During 400 years of Portuguese rule, Portuguese and Chinese Catholics were segregated. The first Chinese bishop was ordained in 1988. The Church has been prominent in education. Catholics are 4.6% of the population.

Malaysia – Parliamentary democracy SE Asia: capital, Kuala Lumpur. Christianity was introduced by Portuguese colonists in 1511, though it was confined to Malacca till the late 18th century. Evangelization became more effective with the training of native clergy. Singapore (founded 1819) became the center for mission work. Effective evangelization in Sabah and Sarawak began in the second half of the 19th century. The hierarchy was established in 1973. It is illegal to proselytize Muslims, though conversion from other religions is allowed. Catholics are 3% of the population.

Maldives - Republic, archipelago 400 miles southwest of India and Ceylon: capital, Male. Unevangelized. Population Muslim.

Mauritius – Island republic, Indian Ocean: capital, Port Louis. Catholicism was introduced by the Vincentians in 1722. Port Louis was made a vicariate in 1819 and a diocese in 1847. It became the point of departure for missions to Australia, Madagascar, South Africa. Catholics are 23% of the population.

Mongolia – Republic north central Asia: capital, Ulan Bator. Christianity was introduced by Oriental Orthodox. Franciscans passed through in the 13th and 14th centuries, en route to China. During the 18th and 19th centuries, it was subject to the Chinese. It was occupied by the Russian Red Army in 1921 and became a Soviet dominated people's republic until 1990, when a reformist communist government restored many freedoms. In 1992,  freedom of worship was guaranteed by a new constitution, relations with Holy See were established, with an invitation to missionaries to help rebuild country. The first Catholic parish was established in 1994, and by 1997 the work of the Church had extended beyond the capital. Catholics are .04% of the population.

Myanmar (Burma) – Socialist republic SE Asia: capital, Yangon (Rangoon). Evangelization began about 1500, though with limited success until the 1850s, when mission work became more organized. The hierarchy was established in 1955. Buddhism was declared the state religion in 1961, but the state is now officially secular. In 1965 Church schools and hospitals were nationalized. In 1966 the government refused to renew work permits of foreign missionaries arriving after 1948. The Church has been limited to pastoral and social work. Catholics are 1.2% of the population.

Nepal – Constitutional monarchy, central Asia: capital, Katmandu. Some parts were evangelized in the 18th century, though with minimal results before the country was closed to foreigners. Hinduism is the state religion; conversion to another religion  is punishable by imprisonment. Catholics are .2% of the population.

Oman – Independent monarchy, eastern corner of Arabian Peninsula: capital, Muscat. Catholics are 2.6% of the population, under the jurisdiction of the Arabia apostolic vicariate.

Pakistan – Islamic republic SW Asia: capital, Islamabad. Islam, established there in the 8th century, is the state religion. Christian mission work, after scattered earlier attempts, became systematic in the mid-19th century. The hierarchy was established in 1950. Muslim laws have been invoked to charge Christians with blasphemy, and even sentence them to death (though revoked on appeal). Christians, including Catholics, have been targets of terrorist attacks. Catholics are 0.09% of the population.

Philippines – Republic, archipelago of 7000 islands off SE coast of Asia: capital, Manila. Two thirds of all Asian Catholics live in the Philippines.  Systematic evangelization began there in 1564. By the 19th century, the Church was firmly established. During the period of colonial rule (1521-1898), the Spanish government tried to control ecclesiastical affairs through episcopal appointments. When the US gained possession, the policy of separation between Church and state was initiated. There was a wave of anticlericalism late in the 19th century, and a schism which attempted to set up a nationalist Church.

In the last century, criticism of Marcos' presidency by bishops resulted in the religious press being bridled and Church leaders detained. The bishops’ call for nonviolent struggle helped instigate a "people power" revolution which overturned the government. In recent years, Church workers have been victimized by Muslim separatists. Catholics make up 83% of the population.

Qatar – Independent state in the Persian Gulf: capital, Doha. Catholics, who make up 11.8% of the population, are under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Arabia apostolic vicariate.

Réunion – Volcanic island under the French overseas department, 450 miles east of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean: capital, Saint-Denis. Catholicism was introduced in 1667. An apostolic prefecture was organized in 1712. The Vincentians began work in 1817, and were joined later by the Holy Ghost Fathers. Catholics are 85.5% of the population.