The diocese stretches over nearly 4,400 square kilometers. The population of this particular region is 1,533,000 of which 251,000 are Catholics. Most of the people are Hindus. The population of the whole country is 21.67 million.
Most people here speak Tamil. Many Muslims also take Tamil as their mother tongue.
Tamils are the second -largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka with prehistoric links to south India. This diocese has a number of Hindu temples including some ruined ones, some of which have been identified as Buddhist temples, and churches. Due to the nearness of South India and the influence of Hinduism, Indian culture is quite pervasive here.
The artistic excellence of Indian sculptures can be seen in many Hindu temples. Nallur, Keerimalai and Maviddapuram are some of them. When the Portuguese arrived in 1505, there were three kingdoms -- Kotte, Kandy and Jaffna. The Jaffna kingdom was last ruled by Ariyachakrawaththi Sangilian, a Hindu king. He vehemently opposed the spread of Christianity, and harassed and murdered many Christians. Historical records say that St. Francis Xavier visited Mannar and Jaffna in 1548 and persuaded Sangili to cease hostilities against Christians. The missionaries gradually won the admiration of the people because of their establishment of churches and schools. American missioners first landed in Jaffna city. They established many more missionary schools. Due to the high concentration of schools here, the city became renowned for education. Many upper-class families in Sri Lanka sent their children to Jaffna. Swami Arumuga Navalar, a Saivaite, and well-known for his literacy in Tamil and English, translated the Bible into Standard Tamil in the 1840s. Father Swaminathapillai Gnanapragasar, OMI, a scholar and a familiar name in Sri Lanka, served the underprivileged class from 1901-1947.
Kachativu, Palaitivu, Nainativu, Analaitivu, Mandativu Pungudutivu, (tivu means "island") are some of the main islands in the Jaffna diocese. There is the old St. Anthony's church in Kachativu. Every year Catholics from Sri Lanka and India gather here for a religious festival. In Nainativu, there are Buddhist Vihara and Hindu temples. However Christianity is often regarded as a Western religion. Tamils do not easily give up their ancient rites and traditions.
Diocese of Jaffna erected Sept. 1, 1886 Sri Lanka, which had formed part of the Archdiocese of Goa and the Diocese of Cochin for nearly 300 years, was made an apostolic vicariate on Dec. 3, 1834.
On Sept. 17, 1847 this Apostolic Vicariate of Ceylon was divided into two vicariates, namely Colombo and Jaffna. Monsignor Horace Bettachini, an Italian Oratorian, was appointed pro-Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna. On Aug. 13, 1849 he was confirmed Apostolic Vicar of Jaffna. He brought the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1948 to work in the vicariate.
Monsignor Stephen Semeria, OMI, became the next Apostolic Vicar of Jaffna when Monsignor Bettachini died in 1857. In 1886, when Colombo was made an archdiocese, Jaffna became a diocese and Monsignor Theophilus Andrew Melizan, OMI, became the first Bishop of Jaffna. The North Western province of the Diocese of Jaffna was later detached and joined to the Archdiocese of Colombo. In 1893, the Diocese of Trincomalee was created by carving up Jaffna diocese. The Apostolic Prefecture of Anuradhapura was later carved out from Jaffna diocese in 1975. The districts of Mannar and Vavuniya were detached from the Diocese of Jaffna to form the Diocese of Mannar in 1981. The patron saint of Jaffna diocese is Immaculate Mother of God.
Jaffna diocese has a generally dry climate although it gets monsoon rains from October to January. Most of the rain falls from November to February because of the northeast monsoon, which also results in cyclonic winds. The Bay of Bengal is choppy during this period. Dry zonal tanks collect and store water during this rainy season. The annual rainfall is between 1250 and 2000 mm. The average temperature here is between 27 and 31 degrees Celsius.
The diocese lies in the north of Sri Lanka and at the southern tip of India. The Jaffna peninsula, whose head protrudes into the sea, has archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In the southeast of the diocese, in the coastal plain, there are three main districts named Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya which are famous for their thousands of agricultural tanks, fishing lakes, sanctuaries, pasture land for dairy farming, and forests.
This fabled church is also known by its Syriac name Mar Sleeva (Holy Cross) Church
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica at Fort Kochi is one of the finest churches and a historic but also a landmark in Kerala state of southern India. Santa Cruz Church blends Indo-European and Gothic architectural style that draws tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists every year. The cathedral is a great place of devotion and historic significance that survived colonial conquests and invasions to the city.
Mokama Marian shrine on the southern bank of Ganges River bears the legacy persecuted Nepali Catholics banished from their homeland to India for refusing to renounce their faith. Our Lady of Divine Grace Church at Mokama stands about 90 kilometers from Patna, the capital of eastern Indian state of Bihar. Mother Mary is popularly known as Mokama Mata (Mother of Mokama). The church was built to honor Mary in 1947.
Our Lady of Akita Catholic Church is Yuzawadai is among the most famous churches in Japan. The church shot into global fame thanks to a wooden statue of Blessed Virgin Mary that wept 101 times and Marian apparitions to Japanese nun Sister Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa that miraculously healed her hearing impairment. Japanese wooden sculptor Saburo Wakasa from Akita city carved the now-famous miraculous statue of Virgin Mary in 1963.
The Church of the Visitation in Seremban relishes the treasured legacy of pioneering French missionaries who introduced Catholicism in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding region in the 19th century. The first and oldest Church in Kuala Lumpur became a springboard of evangelization following the arrival of French missionary priest Father Pierre Favre from Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP). Before settling down in Seremban he carried out missionary activities in the area from hismission station in Malacca.
St. Mary’s Cathedral Church in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, is the mother church in the tribal belt of eastern India, where Belgian Jesuits laid the foundation of Catholicism in 19th century. This brownish Church, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, stands on Dr. Camil Bulcke Path and nestles between St. Xavier’s College and St. Albert Major Seminary.
Basilica of Our Lady of Graces in Sardhana is a historic church that lives the memory of love and benevolence of the sole female Roman Catholic ruler in India. Our Lady of Graces Church of Sardhana stands at Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh of northern India. Consecrated in 1822, this 200-feet long church with a high central dome over the main altar, is one of the largest churches in northern India.
Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica at Mylapore is a monumental declaration on ancient root of Christianity in India. The church was built over the tomb of St. Thomas, the Apostle who is believed to have preached Christianity in India. The cathedral preserves 2000-year-old bones of the saint and the lance that pierced him to death. Popularly known as Santhome Church, the cathedral at Chennai (formerly Madras) in Tamil Nadu state was constructed during the Portuguese era in the 16th century. “San Thome” assumes its name from St. Thomas.