The Diocese of Itanagar was erected on 7th December, 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. Rt. Rev. Dr. John Thomas Kattrukudiyil, Bishop of Diphu, was transferred to this new See and installed as its first Bishop on 12th March, 2006. The Diocese comprises the 10 civil districts of Western Arunachal Pradesh.
The Catholic Church in Itanagar has a unique history. It all began in early 60s when Fr. L. Cerato SDB, the parish Priest of N. Lakhimpur accepted several Apatani boys in his school at North Lakhimpur. Mr. Kapa Kholie IAS, one of the prominent catholic IAS officers of the State was among his first students. He sent some students also to Dibrugarh as North Lakhimpur was at that time under Dibrugarh Diocese. Rt. Rev. Orestes Marengo, the Bishop of Dibrugarh encouraged this apostolate. The first baptisms of Apatanis took place in Lakhimpur in 1963. With the erection of the Diocese of Tezpur in 1964, the Catholic Church was able to give more attention to West Arunachal. In 1969 Rt. Rev. Joseph Mittathany became the Bishop of Tezpur. He began to encourage in a big way admission of Apatani students into various hostels of the diocese. He gave much financial support to this venture. Several students found their way also to other Catholic Institutions in the region especially Shillong and Dibrugarh. Most of these students were baptized and sent back with the mission to evangelize Arunachal Pradesh.
A more significant breakthrough in Arunachal Apostolate came with the establishment of the Parish of Harmutty by Bishop Joseph Mittathany in 1977. The parish is located close to Bandardewa, the entrance to Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh. Fr. Kulandaisamy, a charismatic missionary, was appointed the Parish Priest of Harmutty. It did not take very long before he befriended the Nyishis coming to the Harmutty market. He invited them to the Parish and gave them hospitality. His friendliness and welcome attitude brought him many guests from Arunachal. He baptized some of them. Those baptized brought others to Harmutty. Gradually there was a continuous flow of Nyishis to Harmutty Parish. Most of them were baptized before they returned home. In this way several communities came up in the Nyishi belt. Fr. Kulandaisamy also found various ways to enter Arunachal. He visited many villages and founded communities. He was always a step ahead of the police who were searching for him. He organized for the new Catholics Bible Camps at various places like Harmutty, Doolahat, Tezpur and Shillong. He recruited from among them promising persons and appointed them catechists. Fr. Kulandaisamy took special interest to place boys and girls in various educational institutions all over North-east. Soon Nyishi students were seen practically in every catholic boarding in the region. Don Bosco Shillong, where the Archbishop emeritus of Guwahati, Most Rev. Dr. Thomas Menamparampil was the Rector, willingly accepted many students. These students were baptized and motivated to return to their home land as missionaries. The Archbishop also did much through his writings, talks and visits to focus the attention of the regional and national church on Arunachal. In 1979 Fr. Kulandaisamy got the help of a young Salesian Jose Chemparathy (Fr. C.C.) to help him in all his works. From 1981 Fr. C.C. Jose joined him as Assistant Parish Priest.
In 1981 Most Rev. Robert Kerketta became the Bishop of Tezpur. He continued to intensify Arunachal Apostolate. In the following year in the month of June a young and zealous Benedictine Brother looking for a mission field to preach the Gospel came to help Fr. Kulandaisamy. That was Bro. Prem Bhai. His missionary spirit took him beyond all borders into every village in West Arunachal Pradesh. His ability to befriend strangers made him a welcome guest everywhere. It would not be an exaggeration to say that his footprints are there in every village in Itanagar Diocese.
On 14th Sept. 1983 Fr. C.C Jose SDB took over from Fr. Kulandaisamy as the Parish Priest of Harmutty. Fr. C.C. Jose gave a new momentum to the efforts to evangelize the area inhabited by the Nyishis. He was ably assisted by several young and dynamic Priests like Fr. Sebastian Thuruthiyil SDB and Fr. Francis Tinglung SDB. As it became easier to get inner line permits, many students of Theology from Shillong also spent their holidays in Arunachal visiting communities. Fr. C.C. Jose learned Nyishi well and made many visits to the interior villages of Arunachal. He appointed many more zealous young people as Catechists. Soon there were sizeable communities in areas like Sagalee, Palin, Nyopin, Koloriang, Seppa etc. Some of the active lay Catechists of the Nyishi belt from the time of Fr. Kulandaisamy were: Techi Xavier, Nabam Taram, Thai Thomas, Tunar Tara, Taring Kumar, Chelo Tagi, Bakey Tanang Thomas, Nich Rencho, Nabam Bida, Nangbia Angelus and Biri Oyo.
The parishes of Tezpur Diocese stretching from Rangapara to Jonai made contacts with border villages of Arunachal Pradesh. Fr. Cherian Moolamattam was particularly successful in establishing vibrant communities at Tarasso and Dighalmukh. Similar success stories are attached to the Parishes of Dholaibil, Tetenbari, Silapathar, Gogamukh, Dhemaji, Telem and Jonai. On the initiative Fr. George Kannathara, then the Parish Priest of Dholaibil, the CST brothers set up a school at Seijosa in 2001.
The communities of Seppa circle were looked after from Dholaibil and Rangapara in Assam. The land for the Parish of Seppa was acquired by Fr. Joseph Vadayaparampil, Parish Priest of Rangapara. The parish was erected in 1997. Bishop Robert Kerketta of Tezpur invited SVD Priests to evangelize the area. The SVD missionaries toured extensively and later established a parish at Nari Camp in 2002.
Ziro had in the meanwhile a small community formed by the past pupils baptized in the various catholic schools of North-east. This community was given pastoral care from the Parish of N. Lakhimpur. Initially Fr. Job Appathara and later Fr. Sebastian Pouvath did their best to keep the community alive. The parish of Ziro was erected in 1997 with Fr. Sebastian Ayilookunnel as the Parish Priest. The past pupils from the catholic schools remain a source of strength for the church.
The First Baptisms in the Adi area were given by Fr. Job Kallarackal SDB at Kaying on April 1st 1982. This contact was renewed by Bro. Prem Bhai in 1989. From then on the evangelization work progressed fast. The Congregation of Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales working at Silapathar assisted the work of the lay people in the Adi belt. Bro. Prem Bhai toured extensively this area up to Tuting. Fr. Mathew Puthumana along with Sr. Mary Joseph MCJ working from Jonai Parish established some communities in Arunachal. Moving up from Silapathar, the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales and the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Chavanod helped to strengthen established communities. One of the most familiar missionary faces in West Siang district from 1993 is that of Sr. Dorothy Hajoary SCC. The growth of the church in this area was primarily the result of the missionary zeal of laymen like Tanyong Pangu, Tabang Pali, Mathew Rebang Tabang, Marba Boje, Tachik Ngurak, Boi Tappo, Tapo Yaying, Tako Koje, and Jose Bote Yuto.
The first resident religious of West Arunachal were the Sisters of the Missionaries of Christ Jesus. They went to live in Ziro in 1992. In the same year the Missionaries of Charity came to reside in Itanagar. Mr. Tok Buttom, a local catholic leader, helped the sisters find a residence. Close on the heels of the sisters Fr. C.C. Jose Chemaparathy also moved to Itanagar and the Parish of Itanagar was erected. Open hostility to missionaries gave way to tolerance and then to acceptance. Fr. C.C. Jose built up good rapport with the Government that facilitated the shift in attitude. The Church took advantage of the changed climate and opened a number of Parishes and institutions. More Priests and religious personnel entered Arunachal. The opening of Don Bosco School and Don Bosco College at Jully is an important milestone in the history of the church in Itanagar Diocese. Very soon the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Chavanod, Salesian sisters, Missionary Sisters of Mary Help Christians and the Franciscan Brothers came to staff institutions stretching from Bandardewa to Itanagar. Bro. Prem Bhai opened the Holy Trinity Ashram at Bandardewa in 2002 to facilitate the catechesis of the people. The administration of the ashram was later entrusted with SVD Fathers. And in 2009 Banderdewa was raised to a Parish. The parish of Naharlagun was erected in 2004 with Fr. Jacob Mattathilany as Parish Priest.
From Itanagar the Missionaries of Charity moved to Palin on 7th October, 1993 in order to pave way for the opening of a parish there. On 2nd Feb. 1995 the Parish of Palin was opened with Fr. Francis Thottathimyalil SDB as Priest in charge. Fr. Francis did much to promote liturgical literature in Nyishi language. He also translated the Gospels into Nyishi. Fr. Sebastian Thuruthiyil, already an experienced Arunachal missionary moved on to Yachuli in 1997 to open a parish.
By this time some of our young Catholics began to be active in the political scene. Dynamic young persons like Wanglet Lowangsha, late Tadar Taniang and Sanjoy Takam fought the elections in 1995 and won their seats in the legislative assembly and also in the cabinet. Their influence helped to create a better climate for the missionaries in Arunachal.
The Christian Brothers from Shillong came to do some pioneering mission work at Sagalee under the leadership of Bro. Avinash. They had to abandon the place soon because of a flash flood that washed away their house. Then they moved to Sangram in 1999 where they have now put up one of the best attended rural schools of the diocese. The Missionary Sisters of Mary help of Christians also joined them to help in their educational and medical Apostolate.
Fr. Paul Coelho SJ came to the diocese in 1998 and established the parish of Palizi among the Aka tribe. From Palizi the Jesuits have branched out to Trizino, Buragaon and Nafra. The SMMI and UFS have joined them in their Apostolate. Later in the year 2007 U.F.S and FCC 2012.
The Claretian Fathers opened a parish at Boasimla in 1999. Mr. Boa Tamo, an Ex MLA took keen interest in establishing this Parish. Again they came in a big way to serve the diocese by setting up a Degree College at Ziro. The Parish of Daporijo was opened in 1999 by Fr. Mathew Kanat. He was succeeded by Fr. Bosco Kujur in 2004. The SABS came to share the educational and medical apostolate both at Boasimla and Daporijo.
The Parish of Siyum was opened in 2009 with the areas taken from Daporijo Parish. Fr. Augustine Kollencherry SAC was installed as the First Parish Priest. The Sisters of Destitute joined them in August 2010. Another new Mission Centre at Mengio under yachuli Parish was inaugurated in 2010 and erected as a Parish in 2011. We have the service of MCBS Fathers at this Parish.
Many parishes were opened also in the Siang Districts. A Parish was established at Pasighat in 1997 with Fr. Thomas Kollathuvayalil MSFS as Parish Priest. In 1998 Fr. Job Karikampally MSFS opened the Parish at Kaying where the first Catholics had been baptized in 1982. Then in quick succession the following parishes were opened in the Adi belt: Tato (2002); Yingkiong (2005) Basar (2005) Aalo (2006). Likabali (2011)The SFS College at Aalo was inaugurated in August 2007 with Fr. George Parampukattil MSFS as its first Principal.
The installation of the first Bishop of Itanagar on 12th March 2006 was joyful event for West Arunachal. The Catholics celebrated the occasion with a sense of triumph; especially those who had gone through hard times because of the earlier antagonism of the government to the church. The fact that Mr. Nabam Tuki, the PWD minister and a catholic, was the chairman of the organizing committee facilitated the celebrations. The presence of the Chief Minister along with several cabinet Ministers at the event was an indication that the government had given up on its hard line towards the Church.
The various congregations at present working in the diocese are CMC, FCC, FMA, MC, MCJ, MSMHC, OSU, SABS, SCC, SD, SH, SMMI, UFS , AC,CSSE,SAS of the women and CFC, CMF, CMSF, CSC, MCBS, MSFS, SAC, SDB, SJ, SVD, VC, OFM of the Congregation of men. The forbidden land for the Missionaries once, is now an abode for twin dioceses. The Priests, Sisters, Religious Brothers and the faithful in the Diocese work with single minded purpose under the patronage of St. Joseph the Patron of the Diocese!
No history of the church in Arunachal can be complete without placing on record the faith, commitment and spirit of perseverance of the early catholic leaders and Catechists who resisting all prohibitions and persecutions held on to their faith and proclaimed it in the villages of Arunachal Pradesh. The seed of faith germinated and took roots under the watchful care of these great missionaries. And today we reap the harvest of their hard toil. May God reward our pioneers!!!
||7 December, 2005
||Adi, Aka, Apatani, Hill Miri, Monpa, Nyshi, Tagin, Mynniong, Bori etc.
|Hostels (Girls and Boys)