In a land area of 20,880 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers 8 townships of Chin State except Paletwa and adjacent regions: Tamu, Kalay, Kalewa, Phaungbyin, Mawlaik and Homalin of Sagaing Division; Gangaw, Saw, Htilin, and Kyakhtu of Magwe Division. The diocese stretches out over about 565 kilometers from north to south and breadthwise nearly 13 kilometers from east to west.
Hakha diocese is located in the northwestern part of Myanmar (Burma), bordering on India, between Latitudes 20.6 and 25.5 East and Longitudes 92.5 and 95.5 North. Its elevation ranges from about 546 meters to 1,865 meters above sea level.
Hakha Diocese was established as a diocese on Nov. 21, 1992. It was part of Mandalay Archdiocese until then and is now one of the suffragan dioceses of the same Archdiocese.
There are 1,675,667 inhabitants; two thirds of the region is situated on the mountainous and hilly ranges. The majority of the inhabitants are Chin-hill-tribal people.
Hakha, Falam, Teddim, Mindat are most spoken major dialects and there are about fifty more minor dialects.
The French priests of the "Paris Foreign Mission Society" (Missions Etrangeres De Paris, MEP) were always eager to go as missionaries to the western side of Chindwin River. They attempted to enter the Chin Hills even in 1864. In that year Bishop Bigandet sent Father Lecomte (MEP), but his mission to reach the Chin Hills was not successful since his movement was restricted as he was escorted by the King's soldiers and not allowed to go beyond the Catholic villages.
Twenty years later in 1884, Father Laurent (MEP) came to Kalaymyo where he met some Chins. In 1888, Father Antonin Usse came up from Chaung U to Mindat near Mawlaik by English steamer. Writing to Bishop Simon of Mandalay he said, "Farther in the west are the Chins, a people of straight forward and brave warriors, who are defending their independence against the ambition of the English, I would be proud to be their apostle".
As he revisited the Catholics in the English military camps, he reached Forth White near Thuklai on Sept. 22, 1889. In his letter to the bishop dated Oct. 15, 1889, he said "Once I climbed up to the top of the mountain and contemplated the villages far away. How I wished to go there with my crucifix and my breviary...Some day it will be necessary to send a caravan of missionaries in that part of the Vineyard...". He was the first Catholic priest to visit Northern Chin State.
In 1890, the Vicar Apostolic of Mandalay, Msgr. Simon, Father Laurent (MEP), and Father Vestraeten went to Chin Hills that was about 400 kilometers away from Mandalay. They went towards Northern Chin hills and settled at Balet, south of Mawlaik, on the western side of the Chindwin River. But after one year, they saw that they were still far from the real Chins.
The next year, Father Laurent went with Father Jarre to enter Chin Hills in the south from Pakokku, through Pauk and Thilin. They arrived at the large village of Shon-Shi, near the Myittha River. They met Chins there and began to study the language.
Father Accarion joined them at the end of 1891. They planned to go to Hakha and settle there, in the centre of Chin Hills. Father Laurent remained at Gangaw, for health reasons. But as soon as Fathers Jarre and Accarion arrived at Hakha, the capital of Chin State, an English officer, who was a Protestant and hostile to the Catholics, urged them to leave the place saying that Chins were not yet civilized and the life of the priests would be in danger. The Fathers had no choice but to go back to Gangaw. In 1898, the American Baptist missionaries came to Hakha and the same officer welcomed them with open arms. And thus the first attempts of Catholic missionaries to Chin Hills were not successful.
The coming of the Baptist Mission was a blessing in disguise for the Catholic Mission. For more than forty years, they invented the written language of Hakha, Falam and Tiddim with Roman alphabets. They translated the New Testament. They abolished the practice of offering sacrifices to the spirits which was too costly. They wanted to become Baptists, but the strict prohibition of drinking "Zu" (traditional alcoholic drink) is too demanding for the Chin people. "Zu" is for them a kind of nutrition and also the only consolation for them after a hard day's work. Many people wanted to be free from worshipping evil spirits and at the same time began to ask for a kind of Christianity that would allow its believers to drink "Zu".
Evangelization of Southern Chin State
The second attempt was made in 1934, under Bishop A. Faliere 50 years later than the Protestants. Bishop A. Faliere, Father Audrain (MEP) and Father Alexis U Ba Din, a diocesan priest, with four catechists arrived at Kanpetlet, the then capital of Southern Chin State, on Dec. 17, 1933. Looking for better prospects, the pioneers proceeded to Mindat, about 50 kilometers northeast of Kanpetlet on Dec. 31, 1933. The first Mass there was said on Jan. 1, 1934. With the strenuous efforts of two pioneers, Father Audrain and Father Alexis, the good seed of the Word of God was sown in Mindat area of Southern Chin State to grow in time into a big tree.
Evangelization of the Northern Chin State
In 1938, Bishop Faliere met Colonel Burne at Magwe in order to settle some problems connected with Mindat hospital. Colonel Burne was the highest authority for the Chin Special Division. He recommended the Bishop to go and begin a Catholic Mission in the Northern Chin hills. The Bishop was very happy and he himself came to the north in 1939. While the Bishop and his companions were at the house of Mr. Kelly, the Assistant Superintendent of Tiddim and a Catholic, the Superintendent from Falam, came to meet them. He told the Bishop that the coming of the Catholic Mission to the Chin Hills was contrary to the agreement signed in 1898 with the Baptist Missionaries. He wanted them to draw back as they did to Fr. Jarre and Fr. Accarion. The bishop smilingly told him that he came there with the permission of the highest authority, Colonel Burne at Magwe and he continued his missionary journey without fear.
The American Baptist Missionaries wrote to the British Governor of Burma reminding him of the agreement made with them in 1898. The governor kindly thanked them for their good works among the Chins but ended his letter by saying that he did not see any reason to forbid the arrival of the Catholics there. "As in the rest of Burma", he added, "the simultaneous presence of Baptists and Catholics created an emulation quite beneficial to the population, so would the presence of Catholics alongside the Baptists on the hills be of benefit to all people." With this the Catholics won a landslide victory.
The real beginning of the Catholic Church in the Northern Chin hills started with the arrival at Tonzang of Father Mainier, Father Blivet, Father Aloysius U Ba Khin and four catechists: Maung Tun Yin, Fridolinus Mg Ba Maung, Saya Aung Min, Mr. Frank Reuben (to Tonzang). Father Moses took up residence at Tonzang, while Father Blivet settled at Lailui village.
Then, the Chin State was under the Archdiocese of Madalay until Hakha Diocese was established on Nov. 21, 1992. Bishop Nicholas Mang Thang, becoming the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Mandalay after his episcopal ordination on Jan. 15, 1989, was appointed the first Bishop of Hakha Diocese. He was enthroned on March 21, 1993 in Hakha. Pope Benedict XVI elevated Msgr. Felix Lian Khen Thang, one of Chin priests from the same diocese, to the rank of episcopacy and appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Hakha Diocese. His episcopal ordination was held on May 6, 2006.
There is a domestic airport only at Kalaymyo where the diocesan centre locates. Most of the roads that can be used by car are not serviceable during the rainy seaon but only during summer and winter seasons. A few kilometers of railways can be found in the plain areas. In many remote areas people are still traveling on foot carrying things on their shoulders.
In some places there are landline-telephones and very few mobile phones. Only at the diocesan centre there is internet and email access. But no parish has this means of communication.
Christianity is the major religion of Chins. 86 percent of Chins belong to the Protestant denominations. There are a few Buddhists, animists and Muslims.
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