The Latin Church

The presence of the Latin Church in India, particularly on the coast of Quilon(Kollam), has protracted over eleven centuries or more.

            However, the work of evangelization was enthusiastically revived by the western missionaries in the 13th century. The western records of the Franciscans and Dominicans contain the evidence of the early Latin Missions in India. Giovanni di Monte Corvino, O.F.M., Jordan Catalani, O.P., Odorico di Pordenone, O.F.M., andGiovanni di Marignolli, O.F.M., were the outstandign protagonists.

            They testify the existence of Christian community at Mylapore and Quilon. Giovanni di Monte Corvino spent slightly over a year in Mylapore (1292-93) and other places on the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. Four Franciscans were martyred in Thana, near Mumbai, in 1321. Jordan Catalani de Sevrac, O.P., was the first resident foreign Catholic missionary in India.

            Pope John XXII, in recognition of the zeal of Jordan, erected the Diocese of Quilon with the Cathedral Church on August 9, 1329, an nominated him as the first Latin Bishop of Quilon. The extent of the See comprised all the medieval mission regions of Indian and Southeast Asia. Odoric di Pordenone, O.F.M., and Giovanni di Marignoli, O.F.M., who have come as Papal Legate to the East, in the 14th century, on their return journey stayed at Quilon for several months.

            The arrival of the Portuguese missionaries came at the time of the exploration of the Malabar Coast by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, opening a new jurisdiction of the Portuguese Padroado in the field of Mission. Cochin and Goa became two main settlements of Portuguese in the 16th century. Aside from communities of Christians in Goa, Mylapore, Travancore, Madurai, As a result, the City of Goa was erected as suffragan to Lisbon. The first Bishop in India was João Alfonso de Albuquerque, O.F.M., who arrived in Goa in 1538. By 1558 Goa became an Archdiocese with Cochin and Malaca as suffragans. This was at the height of the famous Padroado of the Portuguese.

            Aside from communities of Christians in Goa, Mylapore, Travancore, Madurai, Vasai and Mumbai, missionaries made their way into the interior as far as Bengal, Agra, Delhi, Lahore and to Tibet. The first of these missionaries were Franciscans, followed by Jesuits.

            St. Francis Xavier arrived in Goa in 1542, and worked also in Cochin, Vasai and Mylapore. Dominicans arrived in India in the mid-16th century, founding establishments in Goa and Cochin, followed by the Augustinians who came from Persia in 1572, also settling in Goa, but also taking up the task of working among the Muslim populations in Bengal.

            Evangelization took on a new impetus when the Jesuits began their mission to the Moghul Empire, at the invitation of Akbar. The Jesuits enjoyed limited success in this mission until the reign of Shah Jahan, who reversed the previous stance of religious toleration in the Moghul Empire. Nonetheless, settlements of Catholics were begun in Agra, Delhi, Lahore, Patna, Jaipur and Nawar. The Empire was also the starting point for the famous missions to Tibet. As the power and prestige of the Portuguese settlements in India waned, the missions in coastal areas suffered. When the Jesuits were suppressed in Portugal (1759), they were also driven out of India. Later in the early 19th century, Portugal suppressed all religious Orders and this too had a dire effect on the Padroado in India.

            The foundation of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on January 6, 1662, by Pope Gregory XV introduced a new epoch in mission history. In an attempt to shore up the strength of the mission territories in India (and also in Asia), noting the weakness of Portugal, the Holy See began to erect Vicariates Apostolic under the jurisdiction of Propaganda Fide. The first of these Vicariates was that of Deccan (erected in 1637 in what is now Mumbai), followed by that of Malabar (erected in 1659, now Verapoly).The erection of these Vicariates, independent of the control ofPortugal, increased the tensions between the Padroado and Propaganda Fide. An attempt to resolve these tensions resulted in the establishment of the double jurisdiction system, whereby churches and clergy were established by the Portuguese Padroado separate from Propaganda. This unfortunate system lasted until 1928, although the Padroado system was previously annulled by the Pope Gregory XVI in the early 19th century, but restored with the Concordat of 1886.

            By the turn of the 17th century, Carmelites, Theatines, Hospitallers and Oratorinas arrived. Again it is to be noted that all of these missionaries were attached to the Portuguese settlements which were mostly in the coastal regions.

            The Latin Hierarchy of India was erected by Pope Leo XIII, on 1 September 1886, through the bull “Humanae Salutis”, with 6 Metropolitan Archdioceses: Agra, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Pondicherry and Verapoly, and 10 dioceses: Allahabad, Cochin, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Krishnagar, Mysore, Pune, Quilon, Tiruchirapalliand Visakhapatnam, and Patna continued to function as a Vicariate. Thus, when the Hierachy was established in 1886 there were 17 ecclesiastical units under Propaganda and two units – the Archdiocese of Goa (was given the title of Patriarch of East Indies) and the Diocese of Mylapore – under the Padroado. The two Apostolic Vicariates for the Syrian Catholics were erected in Trichur and Kottayam on May 20, 1887.

            The Indian Missionary bishops in 1944 formed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). Portugal gradually renounced its missionary patronage in India. In 1950 the Portuguese Padroado was suppressed.

            On January 26, 1951, Pope Pius XII declared the Mother of God patroness of the country, and in the consistory of January, 12, 1953, His Grace Valerian Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, was created the first Indian Cardinal

On November 1964, Pope Paul VI visited India on the occasion of the International Eucharistic Congress, held in Bombay. Pope John Paul II visited India for the first time for 10 days in 1986, and again in November 1999, his 89th Apostolic Visit outside Italy, for the occasion of solemnly promulgating in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia”, in New Delhi.

            Pope John Paul II, by his letter, dated May 28, 1987, to the Bishops of India, determined that the bishops of each of the three Rites have the right to establish their own Episcopal bodies according to their own ecclesiastical legislation. The three ritual bodies are: Conference of Catholic Bishops’ in India (CCBI) for the Latin Rite, Syro-malabar Bishops’ Synod (SMBS) and Syro-Malankara Bishops’ Conference (SMBC).

I. THE LATIN CHURCH

II. THE SYRO-MALABAR CHURCH 

III. THE SYRO-MALANKARA CHURCH