There are over 17.3 million Catholics in India, which represents less than 2% of the total population and is the largest Christian Church within India. There are 157 ecclesiastical units in India comprising 29 archdioceses and 128 dioceses. Of these, 127 are Latin Rite, 25 Syro-Malabar Rite and 5 Syro-Malankara Rite.
All the bishops in India, both Western and Eastern, form the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, which was founded in 1944. The Holy See's representative to the government of India and to the Church in India is the Apostolic Nuncio to India. The diplomatic mission was established as the Apostolic Delegation to the East Indies in 1881. It was raised to an Internunciature by Pope Pius XII in 1948, and to a full Apostolic Nunciature by Pope Paul VI in 1967.
Christianity in India is reputed to have been introduced by Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD. These Saint Thomas Christians were Nestorians at least by 530 AD. This community were governed by the Bishops from Persia and Babylonia.
John of Monte Corvino, was a Franciscan sent to China to become prelate of Peking about the year l307.He traveled from Persia and moved down by sea to India, in 1291, to the Madras region or “Country of St. Thomas” .There he preached for thirteen months and baptized about one hundred persons. From there Monte Corvino wrote home, in December 1291 (or 1292).That is one of the earliest noteworthy account of the Coromandel coast furnished by any Western European. Traveling by sea from Mailapur, he reached China in 1294, appearing in the capital “Cambaliech” (now Beijing)
Friar Odoric of Udine who arrived in India in 1321. He visited Malabar, touching at Pandarani (20 m. north of Calicut), at Cranganore, and at Kulam or Quilon, proceeding thence, apparently, to Ceylon and to the shrine of St Thomas at Maylapur near Madras. He writes he had found the place where Thomas was buried.
Father Jordanus, a Dominican, followed in 1321-22. He reported to Rome, apparently from somewhere on the west coast of India, that he had given Christian burial to four martyred monks.
Jordan Catalani a French Dominican missionary and explorer in Asia. He is known for his “Mirabilia” describing the marvels of the East. In 1329, he furnished the best account of Indian regions and the Christians , the products, climate, manners, customs, fauna and flori given by any European in the Middle Ages - superior even to Marco Polo’s.
In 1347, Giovanni de’ Marignolli visited the shrine of St Thomas near the modern Madras, and then proceeded to what he calls the kingdom of Saba, and identifies with the Sheba of Scripture, but which seems from various particulars to have been Java. Taking ship again for Malabar on his way to Europe, he encountered great storms.
Another prominent Indian traveler was Joseph, priest over Cranganore. He journeyed to Babylon in 1490 and then sailed to Europe and visited Portugal, Rome, and Venice before returning to India. He helped to write a book about his travels titled The Travels of Joseph the Indian which was widely disseminated across Europe.
With the papal bull Romanus Pontifex the patronage of the mission was granted to the Portuguese and they were remunerated with a trade monopoly. After four decades of prosperous trading they started the proselytization around 1540. Missionaries of the newly founded Society of Jesus were sent to Goa and the Portuguese colonial government supported the mission with incentives for baptized Christians. They offered rice donations for the poor, good positions in the Portuguese colonies for the middle class and military support for local rulers and hence these Christians were dubbed Rice Christians who even practiced their old religion. At the same time many New Christians from Portugal migrated to India as a result of the inquisition in Portugal. Many of them were suspected Crypto-Jews, because they were forcibly converted to Catholicism. Both was considered a threat to the immaculateness of the Christian belief. Saint Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, requested an inquisition to be installed in Goa which would spell the end of Portuguese domination in the Christian dominance.
When the Portuguese came into India, they set themselves to the task of removing this Nestorianism and bringing the community into union with the Catholic Church. Latinisation of St Thomas Christians started in the early 16th century. The Synod of Diamper was convened by the Portuguese between 20 and 26 June 1599, which led most Indian Nestorians to acknowledge the authority of the Pope in Rome. Most of the Christians in the Coramandel coast accepted the Catholic faith, but some St Thomas Christians of the Malabar still stayed with the Assyrian Church or stayed independent.
Concern with charity was common to Catholics and Protestants, but with one major difference: whilst the former could obtain salvation through faith and good works and might be relatively sure that forgiveness of sins could be aided through charity, the latter could not rely on such a possibility, since God alone could save believers, without the agency of the individual or intermediaries. In Portuguese India, for instance, Saint Francis Xavier and his fellow missionaries were especially careful to help the local charitable institutions by tending to the sick, both spiritually and physically, and performing other works of mercy. The Jesuits' educational institutions, although never succeeding in missionary activities, had left a prestigious impact through their education institutions. Education has become the major priority for the Church in India in recent years with nearly 60% of the Catholic schools situated in rural areas. Even in the early part of the 19th century, Catholic schools had left its emphasis on poor relief and welfare.
The Church provides an estimated 22 percent of all health-care services, operating 5,000 facilities, and employs 33 percent of Indian health-care workers, including 40,000 Catholic nurses.