Nepal, The Catholic Church in
NEPAL, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in the Himalayas, between India and Tibet, Nepal has four distinct geographical areas: a strip of low lying land along the Indian border, the "mid-hills" (up to 10,000 ft.), the Himalayan Range, and in the northwest, a mountainous area which is part of the Tibetan marginal mountains. Climatic zones range from the subtropical to the arctic conditions of the Himalayan Range. Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government and a two-house legislature. The king is the constitutional head of state. It is the only officially Hindu country in the world, and the king must be a Hindu. Nepal is also one of the least economically developed countries in the world, with almost half of the population under the absolute poverty line. Average life expectancy is only about 55 years and few people outside of the urban areas have access to modern health care. The economy is primarily rural and agriculture-based, but few farmers have sufficient land to yield more than bare subsistence. Unemployment is high and underemployment is common with about half of the entire work force working for less than 40 hours a week.
The Catholic Church in Nepal. Christianity first entered Nepal when Jesuit missionaries passed through the country from 1628 onward. In 1703 Nepal became a part of the Italian Capuchin Mission to Tibet. The first Capuchins arrived in Kathmandu in 1715. From 1715 to 1769 the Capuchins were active in the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. At that time the present area of Nepal comprised many tiny independent kingdoms across the hills. In 1742 the King of Gorkha, to the west of Kathmandu, united these small kingdoms into a larger country. He conquered the three kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. During that period, the Capuchins faced severe difficulties arising from the closure of their mission in Tibet, a severe shortage of resources, and a hostile Gorkhali king who accused them of being in league with the British who had sided with the former kings of the Valley. Hence, the Capuchins withdrew from Nepal for India with a small group of converts, who settled in the village of Chuhari in north Bihar. In 1786, the Capuchins returned to Nepal. Over the next several years they had a sporadic presence in Nepal. The last Capuchin died in Kathmandu in 1810 and no others were assigned.
In 1814 Nepal fought and lost the war with the British East India Company. As a result, Nepal was forced to accept a treaty which specified, among other things, that no foreigners were permitted to enter Nepal without the specific permission of the governor general in Calcutta, a permission that was seldom granted and only for short visits. This treaty remained in force until 1951 and
effectively closed Nepal to any missionary activity. By 1951 there was no trace left in Nepal of the Capuchin mission. From 1846 to 1951 Nepal was governed by a family of autocratic, hereditary prime ministers, the Ranas. With the overthrow of the Rana regime in 1951 and the return of power to the king, things changed. A new treaty was signed with the now independent government of India, and Nepal opened up to the international community. In 1951 the jesuits from Patna in Bihar, India, were invited to open a school for boys in Nepal. They were followed in 1954 by the IBVM (Loretto) sisters who opened a school for girls.
Ecclesiastically Nepal was placed under the jurisdiction of the Vicariate Apostolic of Tibet and Hindustan in 1784 and from 1808 was under various Indian jurisdictions. In 1919 Nepal was incorporated into the newly created diocese of Patna, Bihar. In 1984, Nepal established diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Nepal became a Missio Sui Iuris, and was subsequently raised to an Prefecture Apostolic in 1997. Since the opening of Nepal in 1951 various religious groups, both Protestant and Catholic, have been invited to Nepal to help the country in the fields of education, health, social welfare and general development. The Jesuits in Nepal have expanded their work to include four schools, one college and a research center. They also have an extensive social ministry in cooperation with the development efforts of the Nepal government. In addition to the Jesuits there are now four other orders of men and 15 orders of religious women working in Nepal. Their efforts are concentrated primarily in education but also in social work, including a center for women afflicted with HIV, a drug rehabilitation center and non-formal education. The personnel of these religious orders are mainly from India.
Protestant Churches in Nepal. Protestant efforts in Nepal began in 1953 when two American missionary families, Methodist and Presbyterian, were invited to open a hospital. They sought the cooperation of other Protestant groups, and in 1954 founded the United Mission to Nepal (UMN), an inter-denominational organization which functions as the main organ of Protestant efforts. Today UMN has 33 member bodies and 20 affiliated members from various Christian churches that contribute personnel and support. UMN is the largest missionary body with expatriate personnel working in various parts of the country and engaged in a variety of health, educational and developmental works. In addition to the UMN, the seventh day adventists opened a hospital in 1957, the Evangelical Alliance Mission carries out medical work, and the International Nepal Fellowship is engaged in working with victims of Hansen's disease. There are several native Protestant communities throughout the country. Except for one community affiliated to the Assembly of God, all of these communities are independent with no denominational affiliation. The number of native Protestants considerably exceeds that of Catholics.
Bibliography: g. fletcher, The Fabulous Flemings of Kathmandu (USA 1964). j. lindell, Nepal and the Gospel of God (Kathmandu 1979). l. petech, Il Nuovo Ramusio, v. 2, I Missionari Italiani Nel Tibet E. Nel Nepal, Parts 1-4 (Rome 1952). f. vannini, Christian Settlements in Nepal during the Eighteenth Century (New Delhi 1976). umn, Introducing Nepal and the UMN (Kathmandu 1986).
[j. k. locke]