History of the Catholic Church in Nepal

As far as historical records show, the first Catholic priest to enter this mountain Kingdom was the Portuguese Jesuit, Fr. Joao Cabral who passed through the Kathmandu Valley in the spring of 1628 and was received graciously by the king of that time, probably King Lakshminarasimha Malla of Kathmandu. He was just passing through, however, on his journey from Shigatse to Hugli in India.

On the eve of Christmas in 1661 two Jesuit priests, Albert d’Orvillea Belgian from Brussels and Johann Grueber an Austrian from Linz visited Kathmandu from the Imperial Chinese Observatory in Peking via Lhasa. Pratap Mala, the then King of Kathmandu received them and was ready to grant them permission to preach the new religion in the kingdom, but without waiting for the permission they left for Agra, the headquarters of the Tibet-Hindustan Mission, in India.

The first attempt to a more permanent presence in Nepal dates from a special session of the once Propaganda Fide in Rome on 14th March 1703 when it was decided to open a mission to Tibet which would include a section of north India and the whole of what now is Nepal, which was on the way from Patna to Lhasa. This new enterprise was assigned to the Italian Capuchin Friars. The first Capuchins set out from Europe in May of 1704. Of the six who set out for Tibet two died on board ship, one was put ashore at Cyprus, too ill to carry on; one remained at Chandanagore in India. Only were able to set out from India for Tibet. They arrived in Kathmandu on 21stFebruary of 1707 but stayed only long enough to arrange their journey to Tibet, departing on 12th June of the same year for Lhasa.

It was only after a reorganization in 1714 that the Capuchins were able to send three men to open a more permanent station in Nepal. They arrived in Kathmandu in the middle of January 1715, setting first in the kingdom of Kathmandu where they were favourably received by the king.

Over the next fifty-four years, despite many difficulties arising from suspicious, misunderstandings, lack of manpower and lack of material resources their work grew and the Capuchins extended their service to the kingdoms of Bhaktapur and Patan. In addition to this, they were in contact with the kings of both Gorkha and Tanahun. On 18th November 1737 King Ranajita Malla of Bhaktapur issued a Decree of Liberty of Conscience in favour of the fathers. King Jayaprakash Malla of Kathmandu had issued a similar decree in the previous month. On 24th March 1760 father Tranquillius blessed a small church, situated in Wotu Tole in Kathmanduunder the title of the Assumption of Our Lady. There was also a small chapel in Bhaktapur dedicated to Our Lady under the title of the Annunciation and another one in Patan.

In 1744 King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha had begun his military campaign that ultimately ended in the conquest of the three kingdoms of the valley in 1768 and 1769. The Capuchin Fathers had known Prithvi Narayan Shah earlier and were on friendly terms with him providing medical aid to his brother who was wounded in an attack on Kirtipur. Toward the end of this period, however, when king Jayaprakash Malla of Kathmandu sought the help of the East India Company in his fight against Gorkha, suspicion fell on the Capuchins as having been involved in this scheme. After the Gorkhali conquest of the valley this suspicion hardened. This suspicion, plus the lack of manpower and resources, made the position of the Capuchins, who numbered only three at the time, untenable. They asked the new king for permission to leave Nepal. Permission was given for one of them to leave and father Giuseppe di Rovato left the valley on 4th February 1769 with some fifty-seven Christians who settled at Chuhari, where their descendants still live. Within a few weeks the remaining twoCapuchins, who had been retained as a sort of hostages against any further interference from the plains, were given permission. to leave.

The Capuchins left Nepal with a promise to return, but it was 1786 before they were in a position to fulfill their promise. In that year father Giuseppe di S. Marcello came to Nepal where he stayed for three years, being joined for one year by father Carlo Maria. Lack of manpower in India forced the superiors in the plains to recall father Joseph in 1789. In 1794 father Giuseppe along with father Romualdo di Senigallia returned toNepal. Father Romualdo left because of ill health after a few months, but father Giuseppe stayed on, dying in Kathmandu on 9th November 1810.

The year 1814 saw the outbreak of war between Nepal and the East India Company. The treaty of Sugauli of 1816 brought an end to the war, but one stipulation of that treaty stated that the king of Nepal must not “take or retain in his service any British subject, nor the subject of any European and American State, without the consent of the British government. This stipulation effectively closed the borders of Nepal to all foreigners, and both sides observed the stipulation until Indian Independence in 1947.

Tribal people from Bihar particularly present Jharkhand started coming to East Nepal in search of employment in the tea gardens from the early decades of the last century. A number of these people were Catholics. Priests from the north Bihar region bordering Eastern Nepal kept visiting incognito,these Catholics who had migrated to Nepal, at least from the early 1940’s. However, no systematic ministry was possible due to the prevailing condition in the country at that time.

In the fall of 1949 father Marshall Moran, S.J., then principal of St. Xavier’s school in Patna and a member of the Senate of Patna University, was asked by the Univarsity to go to Nepal to supervise the annual examinations at the Trichandra College, then affiliated to Patna University. On 1st October he crossed the border into Nepal from Raxaul. While in Nepal he was taken to meet the Prime Minister, Mohan S.J.B. Rana, who raised the question of the possibility of the opening of a school in Nepal similar to St. Xavier’s in Patna.Mrigendra S.S. Rana, the director of public education, arrived in Patna to inform father Moran that the government of Nepal was inviting him to open a school at Godavari. Within a few days, however, the Rana government was overthrown through the initiative of King Tribhuvan; further planning had to await confirmation by the new government. In March of 1951 formal approval came from the new government through the minister of education, Mr. Nrip JungRana.

Father Moran returned to Kathmandu in May to prepare for the opening of Godavari School, which opened on 1st July 1950 with three Jesuits, fathers Moran, Francis Murphy and Edwin Saxton, two Nepali teachers and sixty five students, classes one through six. Facilities at Godavari soon proved inadequate for the growing number of students and in September of 1954 father Moran acquired a piece of property in Jawalakhel for the primary section of the school. St. Xavier’s Jawalakhel opened officially on 8thSeptember 1954.

Work in Nepal began with the Jesuits from Patna diocese and their work was thus a part of the diocese of Patna. On this first pastoral visit toNepal in November of 1954 Bishop Wildermoth of Patna brought with him two Sisters of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Patna (sistersBenigna and Rita) to explore the possibility of the sisters offering education to the girls of Nepal. The proposal met with approval and three sisters arrived on 27th January 1955 to open St. Mary’s school at Jawalakhel.

From these humble beginnings the work of the Church in Nepal has spread to other areas and includes social service, research, health, education for the poor and disadvantaged, pastoral and retreat work.

Following the establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Kingdom of Nepal and the Catholic Church in 1983, on 7 October 1983, the Holy See separated Nepal from the Patna diocese and erected the Mission sui Iuris of Nepal. Rev. Anthony Francis Sharma, S.J., the fist native Jesuit, was appointed as the first superior of this new ecclesiastical unit. Msgr. Sharma was installed as the first Ecclesiastical Superior of Nepal on 8thDecember 1984.

Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan presented his credentials to the king as the first Pro-Nuncio in 1985.Archbishop George Zur was the next Nuncio and Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri followed him in 1999. In July 2003, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana presented his credentials to the King and became the fourth Nuncio to Nepal. With these events the Church in Nepal entered a new era, no longer an appendage to Indian diocese but a Church in its own right. The Holy See appointed Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio as the new Apostolic Nuncio to Nepal in 2010. After the political changes that took place in 2008 and the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the new Apostolic Nuncio presented his credentials to His Excellency, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, President of Nepal, on 17 March 2011.

As the successor of H.E. Salvatore Pennacchio, on January 21, 2017, H.E. Giambattista Diquattro, the Titular Archbishop of Giromonte was appointed by Pope Francis as the Apostolic Nuncio to India and Nepal.

Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro presented his Credential Letters to H.E. Shri Pranab Mukherjee, President of the Republic of India, on March 29, 2017 and to H.E. Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, on June 5, 2017.

As the successor of H.E. Giambattista Diquattro, on March 03, 2021, H.E. Leopoldo Girelli, the Titular Archbishop of Capri was appointed by Pope Francis as the Apostolic Nuncio to India and Nepal.

Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli presented his Credential Letters to H.E. Shri Ram Nath Kovind, President of the Republic of India, on August 18, 2021 and to H.E. Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, on November 24, 2021.