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Before its annexation by the British Burma consisted of the kingdoms of Ava and Pegu. In 1548 St. Francis Xavier petitioned Father Rodriguez for missionaries to go to Pegu, but nothing is known as to the outcome of his request. In 1699 the Vicar Apostolic of Siam and the Bishop of Meliapur had a dispute concerning the jurisdiction over Pegu, and Cardinal de Tournon, Legatus a latere, decided against the vicar Apostolic. The actual work of evangelizing Ava and Pegu did not begin until the pontificate of Innocent XIII who in 1722, sent Father Sigismond de Calchi a Barnabite, and Father Vittoni, of the same order, to Burma. After many trials and tribulations they succeeded in obtaining permission to preach with full liberty the Gospel of Christ. In 1741 Benedict XIV definitely established the mission, appointing Father Galizia vicar Apostolic, and placing the Barnabites in charge of the work; but in the wars which distracted those regions during the eighteenth century the last two members of the order who had remained in the country were killed. The Barnabites having given up the mission, Pius VIII sent Monsignor Frederic Cao, a member of the Congregation of Pious Schools, and titular Bishop of Zama (18 June, 1830), Gregory XVI placed the mission under the Oblates of Pinerolo, Italy, by appointing (5 July, 1842) Monsignor Giovanni Ceretti, a member of this institute, and titular Bishop of Adrianople, as first vicar Apostolic. About this date (1845) the Catholics of the two kingdoms numbered 2500. In 1848 Monsignor John Balma succeeded as vicar Apostolic (5 September, 1848), but the war with the British rendered his labours ineffectual, and the mission was abandoned about 1852.
The British had in reality begun to assume control of Burma in 1824, but it was not until 20 December, 1852, that the East India Company, after a bloody war, annexed the entire kingdom of Pegu, a territory as large as England. Many years later the kingdom of Ava was also taken by the British, and with conquest of Rangoon the whole of Burma came into the possession of Great Britain. The Oblates of Pinerolo having withdrawn from the mission, the vicariate was placed, in 1855, under the control of the Vicar Apostolic of Siam. At this date the kingdom of Ava and Pegu contained 11 priests and 5320 Catholics.
Burma is bounded on the east by China and Siam, on the West by Assam and Bengal. Its area is approximately 171,430 square rniles, while that of Great Britain and Ireland is 120,947 square miles. Notwithstanding this large extent of territory, Burma has a population of only 8, 000,000 inhabitants. For some ten years the mission remained under the administration of the vicar Apostolic of Siam; but such a condition could not be indefinitely prolonged without compromising its future. A decree of Propaganda (27 November, 1806) accordingly divided Burma into three vicariates, named respectively, with references to their geographical positions, Northern, Southern, and Eastern Burma. The boundaries then fixed were abrogated (28 June, 1870) by another decree of Propaganda, which constituted these three vicariates as they now are.
This vicariate, which has been entrusted to the Missions Etrangères of Paris, is bounded on the north by the Chinese province of Yun-nan, on the east by the River Salwen, on the south by Karenni and Lower Burma, and on the west by Manipur, the Garo Hills, and the independent territories of Tipperah and Assam. In a population of 3,500,000 there are 7248 Catholics, whose spiritual needs are served by 22 European clergy of the Missions Etrangères of Paris and 3 native priests with 47 churches or chapels. The vicariate also possesses 18 schools with 754 children, a seminary with 22 students, 2 boarding-schools with 160 pupils and 6 orphanages with 315 orphans. This is the most dense of the vicar Apostolic is at Mandalay. The stations having one chapel and a resident missionary are Pyinmana, Yamèthin, Magyidaw, Chanthagon, Myokine, Chaung-u, Nabet, Shwebo, Chanthaywa, Monhla, Bhano, and Maymyo. At Mandalay there are, besides the cathedral, the Tamil church of St. Xavier, a Chinese church, and that of St. John's Asylum. The language commonly used in this vicariate is Burmese, but residents ordinarily employ their respective native tongues, which amounts for the Chinese church at Mandalay. This city of 188,000 inhabitants is a busting centre of traffic between Lower Burma and the Province of Yun-nan; hence the large Chinese element in the population.
The vicariate is entrusted to the Milan Seminary of Foreign Missions. Its boundaries, determined by decree of 26 August, 1889, are: on the north the Chinese Province of Yun-nan; on the east, the Mekong, the subsequent course of which bounds Cambodia and Annam; on the south, Karenni and Shan; on the west, the River Salween and part of the course of the Sittang. The vicariate is made up of two quite distinct portions connected almost at right angles by a somewhat narrow strip of territory. The first of these portions comprises Toungoo and the regions Iying between the Sittang and the Salween as far as 20 north latitude; from this parallel of latitude the second portion stretches north to the Tropic of Cancer, bordered on the east and south by China, Annam, and Siam, and on the west by the River Salween.
The beginnings of the mission go back to 1868 when the Milan Seminary of Foreign Missions sent thither Monsignor Biffi as prefect Apostolic, accompanied by Sebastian Carbode, Conti, and Rocco Tornatori. The last named of these is the present vicar Apostolic, and has resided forty years in the vicariate. There are 10, 300 Catholics in this vicariate, the population of which is not exactly known, but amounts to something like 2,000 000. The vicar Apostolic resides in the Leitko HiIls and visits 130 villages in the Karenni district, where there are 10,000 Catholics -- almost the whole Catholic population of the vicariate. There is a school, with 65 children, a convent of the Sisters of Nazareth of Milan, with 40 girls, and, in some of the villages, the beginnings of schools with a few pupils. Toungoo, in the south of the vicariate, with 300 Catholics, has an English school of 130 children of various races, a Native school of 100 children, and a convent of the Sisters of the Reparation of Nazareth of Milan with 70 girls. There are 10 priests. In I902 there were 140 conversions from Paganisms and 6 from Protestantism. The stations provided with are, besides the residence of the vicar Apostolic, Toungoo, Northern Karenni, Yedashe, and Karenni.
This vicariate, entrusted to the Missions Etrangères of Paris, comprises all the territory included in British (Lower) Burma before the annexation of Upper Burma, with the exception, however, of the province of Arakan (attached in 1879 to the Diocese of Dacca) and the Toungoo district (assigned to the Vicariate of Eastern Burma). It is, therefore, bounded on the east by the Diocese of Dacca, on the north by Eastern Burma, on the west by Siam, and on the south by the sea. It extends from the nineteenth to the tenth parallel of north latitude, and, beginning from Moulmein, forms a long and rather narrow strip of land shut in between Siam on the one side and the sea on the other.
In a population estimated at 4,000,000 as many as 45,.579 Catholics are found distributed among 23 stations, the most important of which in respect of Catholic population are: Rangoon, with 2336 Catholics; Moulmein, 1400; Bassein, 1040; Myaung-mya, 4000; Kanaztogon, 4482; Mittagon, 3000; Maryland, 2412; Gyobingauk Tharrawady, 2200. The seat of vicariate Apostolic is at Rangoon. The clergy number 49 European priests, and the vicariate has 231 churches and chapels. The schools are conducted by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, of St. Joseph of the Apparition, and of St. Francis Xavior, those known under this last name being natives. The vicariate supports 12 Anglo-native schools with 4501 children, and 65 Burman or Tamil schools which give instruction to 2200 pupils. The Little Sisters of the Poor, 9 in number, take care of 55 old people at Rangoon, and the Missionaries of Mary have an asylum sheltering 100 children, besides which there are 21 orphanages, containing 790 children, under the care of the above mentioned religious communities. This vicariate, therefore, is in further advanced in Christianity than the other two, a condition due to its greater accessibility and the British influence, which is more fully developed in these regions. In 1845, as has been seen, there were only 2500 Catholics in Burma, sixty years later there are 59,127 -- a proof of the activity of the missionaries and a pledge for the future.
Monsignor Alexander Cardot, Bishop of Limyra, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Burma, was born at Fresse, Haute-Saône, France, 9 January, 1859, and educated in the seminaries of Luneil and Vesoul and of the Missions Etrangères. Monsignor Cardot began his labours in the mission field in 1879, and in 1893 was appointed coadjutor to Bishop Bigandet, his predecessor in the vicariate, who consecrated him at Rangoon (24 June, 1893). He succeeded to the vicariate on the death of Bishop Bigandet, 19 March, 1894.
STREIT, Atlas des Missions (Steyl, 1906); Madras Catholic Directory (1907); Missiones Catholicœ (Rome, 1907), 232-237.