Sri Lanka

[map of Sri Lanka]
The first Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century BC probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced in about the mid-third century BC, and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from c.200 BC to c.1000 AD) and Polonnaruwa (from c.1070 to c.1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty established a Tamil kingdom in northern Sri Lanka. The coastal areas of the island were controlled by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century. The island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. Tens of thousands have died in the ethnic conflict that continues to fester.

Catholicism was introduced into Ceylon in the early 14th-century, and serious missionary work began by Franciscans in 1518; they built churches and monasteries, preached the Faith, and made thousands of converts. Saint Francis Xavier visited the island about 1542 and converted many of the northern Tamils. The Faith spread rapidly until it was attacked by members of the Dutch Reformed Church, the established state religion. Under the Dutch rulers the practise of the Catholic religion was forbidden, penal laws were enforced, and the Catholics were severely persecuted. The Church survived these hardships, owing to the efforts of missionaries from Goa who administered the sacraments secretly and continued the work of evangelization. When the island came under British rule, freedom of worship was granted although the Church of England became the established religion. Ceylon originally belonged to the Portuguese Diocese of Cochin, but in 1834 it became a separate vicariate Apostolic, and in 1845 comprised the two vicariates Apostolic of Colombo and Jaffna. In 1883 the central provinces formed the Vicariate Apostolic of Kandy, in 1886 the Portuguese royal patronage was abolished, and in 1887 Colombo was raised to an archdiocese. Six years later two new dioceses, Galle and Trincomalie, were erected from the Archdiocese of Colombo and the Diocese of Jaffna respectively. Today Christians account for about 6% of the population, and the Catholic Church has more members than any other Christian body.

Ecclesiastically the country is governed by the archdiocese of

and the dioceses of

See also