A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DIOCESE OF RAYAGADA
The seed of Catholicism in Orissa could be traced back to 17th Century, when it was under the care of Madras-Mylapore. By 1845, this region of Odisha was already under the diocese of Visakhapattanam. In the course of time, the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) evangelized the hilly region of Ganjam and Phulbani and the coastal belt of Berhampur and Cuttack.
After the First World War, the MSFS Missonaries handed over the Cuttack Mission to a group of four Spanish Vincentian Missionaries in 1922. Later, many other Spanish Missionaries joined them and the mission work progressed in leaps and bounds. The Mission of Cuttack was declared “Mission Sui Juris” by Pope Pius XI on July 18, 1928 and Fr. Valerian Guemes was appointed its Administrator and Ecclesiastical Superior. The first Indian Bishop for the Diocese of Berhampur was Msgr. Thomas Thiruthalil who led the Diocese from the forefront from the year 1974. When Bishop Thomas was transferred to the newly erected Balasore Diocese in the year 1990, the See of Berhampur was vacant for three years and in the year 1993, Msgr. Joseph Das, a Diocesan priest and the then Vicar General cum Administrator of the Diocese was made the Bishop of Berhampur, who continued to lead the Diocese till early 2007 and Msgr. Sarat Chandra Nayak consecrated Bishop of Berhampur. Given the geographical vastness, from the year 2009 on efforts were made to bifurcate the Diocese of Berhampur into two. As a result, on April 11, 2016, the Diocese of Rayagada was bifurcated from Berhampur. Msgr. Aplinar Senapati CM was appointed the first Bishop of Rayagada, who was consecrated Bishop on May 28, 2016. The Church in Orissa has grown from a small seed to a big plant with more than 36,804,660 out of which 65,000 Catholic Christians are in Rayagada. The Catholic population is spread over the six dioceses and in the 30 civil districts of Orissa. Among the Catholic Christians the lingua franca is Oriya, Hindi and Telugu; and besides this they also speak dialects like Pano, Saura, Kondh, Munda, Kharia, Oraon, Kisan, Ho, Santali, Bonda etc..
The Contributions of Past Missionaries:
Seed of Christianity in the Diocese of Rayagada could be traced back to the late 18th century. Missionaries, especially Missionary Society of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) from Parvatipuram and Vishakapatnam from Andhrapradesh, used to come to Rayagada and Gunupur respectively to cater the Catholic Community present in those places, who were basically speaking in Telugu language. They were supplemented by the Vincentian priests – Valarian Gumes, Gregory Fousto, Fernando etc., especially in Gunupur in Rayagada district and Tentulikhunti in Nawarangpur district. The contributions of Fr. John KV among the Kondhs in Gumuda, Marattiguda etc., Fr. Joseph Moolan CM among the Sabaras of Gunupur sub-division and Fr. Thomas Maliekal CM and Fr. Philip Ittianparambil CM among the Kondhs in Rayagada hills, cannot be forgotten. The evangelization activities were very much active till 2008, when anti-Christian antagonism affected the evangelization activities. As mentioned earlier, the Roman Catholic of Diocese of Rayagada is erected to cater the spiritual and social needs of the six southern districts of South Odisha, which are predominantly tribal and backward in nature. The Diocese of Rayagada commits to fulfill this objective by a combined effort of partnering with like-minded religious and social organizations in the geographical boundary of the Diocese.