Loikaw Diocese located in Kayah State, is the smallest of all 14 States and Divisions in Myanmar. It covers an area of 4,500 square miles, mostly hills and mountains. It borders to Thailand in the East, Shan State in the North, and Karen State in the West and South.
The population of Kayah State is about 310, 000 resulting in an average population density of 17 persons per square kilometer. About three quarters of the population are ethnic minority groups: Kayan, Kayaw, Kayah, etc., while the remaining quarter are Burmese, Shan and Kayin.
The 20 years old history of Loikaw Diocese actually began with the arrival of zealous, self-sacrificing and lifelong dedicated PIME Missionaries in 1868. All present areas of the dioceses of Taungngu, Taunggyi, Kengtong, Lashio and Loikaw have been almost exclusively evangelized by PIME apostles out of whom at least four priests died a martyr's death, many preferred and actually laid down their lives in the missionary lands.
It is recorded that Father Antonio Cazzuloni, PIME, was the first missionary to have visited and resided in Solyaku, 20 miles from Loikaw in 1893. From there, missionary activities were extended to Yado, Hoya, Dorawkhu, Moso, Ghekaw, Dolasaw, Mawchi, Shadaw, Taunggyi and Kengtong as part of Taungngu Diocese.
In 1960, the diocese of Taunggyi inclusive of the whole Kayah State was established with territories taken from Taungngu Diocese. The tireless efforts of the first Bishop, Msgr. J.B. Gobatto, produced abundance of Catholics, priests and religious and it was felt that Kayah State with Loikaw as capital was ready to be a diocese on her own.
The prophetic vision of Father Paolo Manna (a candidate to sainthood) in 1907 that Loikaw should be established as a center from which to expand the evangelization works in the whole of Kayah State came true on April 22, 1989, when Pope John Paul II erected the diocese of Loikaw and created its first Bishop Msgr. Sotero Phamo from Kayah soil.
Loikaw Diocese was officially established on April 22, 1989 with territory taken from the Archdiocese of Taunggyi, consisting of 7 townships, within the Kayah State, Eastern Part of Myanmar.
Soon after its erection as the new diocese in 1989, Loikaw Diocese continued with the Little Evangelizers program which was instituted a year before in 1988. After four years of evangelization activities in Shadaw area, there was a conversion of about 3, 500 people. Since then (593) young people joined Zetamans and committed at least 3 years services happily. Their zeal and dedication proved that lay people can contribute immensely in the missionary work. Even five of them lost their lives while working in the field of evangelization.
During the preparation of the "Bishops' Synod on the Laity in the Church" and the program "Evangelization 2000" new forms of lay apostolate were developed in the dioceses Loikaw and Taunggyi in Kayah state, called the "Zetaman-Movement" (Movement of Young Missionaries). This movement, founded by Bishop Sotero Phamo of Loikaw, brings together young people in the age bracket 16-24 who commit themselves to share the life of the indigenous people living in the villages along the Chinese border for up to five years in order to act as messenger of the Gospel and to assist in development projects.
The young people are prepared for their task by taking training courses in catechesis, liturgy, bible sharing, but also in practical skills such as midwifery and basic medical knowledge. These training courses enable them to serve as catechists, as teachers in elementary schools, as medical assistants and as "barefoot doctors". (From: Georg Evers, The Churches in Asia, Delhi, 2005)
The institution of the Diocesan Pastoral Council on Feb. 5, 1993 has been a big step in the building and growth of the diocese. Every parish formed its own Pastoral Council to coordinate the apostolate activities of every pious association in the diocese such as Catholic Action, St. Anne's Association, Legion of Mary, Youth, Daughters of Mary, Catechists, Zetaman, Kyaungdagas, Religious and Priests.
The evangelization work of the Church is not limited only to the spiritual aspects but it covers the integral human being based on the teaching of the Church. To promote human and social development in the diocese, Loikaw Karuna was founded on Aug. 23, 1993 and it began the works for all in basic health, education, rural water supply, agriculture and community development animation courses.
The Diocesan Pastoral Centre constructed in 1990 for clergy and administration office was completed and blessed in 1995.
The first Diocesan Pastoral Congress was held on April 17-18, 1996 participated by the then 24 parishes. After presentations and proposals were made by parishes, institutes and other associations, decisions and plans were laid down for future pastoral activities for the diocese.
The diocese celebrated its Tenth Year Anniversary on April 22, 1999. The anniversary celebration was marked by the second Diocesan Pastoral Congress held on April 17-21, 1999. The primary objective of the Congress for the diocese was to become a self-governing and self-evangelizing Church.
On the occasion of the Millennium Jubilee celebrated on Nov. 25, 2000, the new Christ the King's Cathedral was consecrated. The occasion was solemnized with the ordination of 7 new priests attended by over 30,000 faithful, 4 Bishops, 200 priests and 300 religious.
The diocese had its third Diocesan Pastoral Congress on May 21-23, 2003. With its aim towards a participatory Church, the congress urged every faithful to actively get involved in all the liturgical leading roles of the Church and to begin the self-supporting projects by Sunday donation, regular contribution of tithe and giving Mass offering by every family.
Loikaw Karuna, the local branch of the national Caritas organisation (Karuna Myanmar) celebrated its Tenth Anniversary on Dec. 10-12, 2003 reevaluating the role it has played in sectors of social development, education and rural health-care. It is the goal of Loikaw Karuna to become witness of God's love and for the evangelization work of the local Church.
In communion with the Universal Church, the diocese is celebrating the Eucharistic Year from Oct. 2004 to Oct. 2005 at diocesan level. Diocesan Eucharistic Day was celebrated on Nov. 21, 2004 with ordination of 5 new priests, attended by over 10, 000 faithful. The program also consisted of the Holy Eucharist adoration by groups and concluded with the Eucharistic procession in the evening.
On April 19, 2009, Bishop Sotero Phamo and all the parish priests concelebrated Mass at the Christ the King Cathedral to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Loikaw Diocese. They also had a get-together with local authorities later that day.
Christianity and Buddhism are the two dominant religions in Kayah State. This place is regarded as the stronghold of Catholicism in Myanmar. Efforts have been made to reach out or have dialogue with people of other religions.