The history of Christian missionary presence is as obscure as the history of Bastar itself. Since it was an unknown and isolated corner of the subcontinent of India, it remained impassible to the Christian missionaries till the period of British invasion. From the year 1893 onwards we do have reference to Christian missionaries and their activities in Bastar area. It was Sir Andrew Fraser, the then commissioner of Chhattisgarh, who gave the Christians permission for the acquisition of land in Bastar region. A certain Mr. Charles B. Ward, an American, was the first missionary of Bastar. After his arrival we find the influence of various other Christian denominations in Bastar. But they are found rather sparsely in the nooks and corners of Bastar. Only the Methodists had got a greater influence among the common people of this tribal belt.
The Catholic mission works in Bastar was initiated by the arrival of the Pillar fathers of Goa on the 5th of August 1966. Formerly Bastar was a part of the territory of Visakhapatnam Diocese. Since Bastar is remote from Visakhapatnam, only very meager pastoral help could be rendered. All that Jagdalpur could expect was only a visiting priest mainly during Easter or Christmas weeks. On August 15, 1966, for the effective pastoral work, Bastar was separated from the diocese of Vishakhapatnam and added to the Apostolic prefecture of Raipur. Then it was entrusted to the Pilar Fathers (S. F. X.). Monsignor John Weidner, the then Prefect Apostolic of Raipur took genuine interest in the development of the region. The Pilar fathers took up .their residence both at Jagdalpur and at Kirandul. They started a school at Kirandul and a social welfare centre at Jagdalpur to help the aboriginals. They did much for the development of the poor with the help of "Food for Work" programme of the Catholic Relief Service. But owing to the lack of personnel they could not spread their activities to more centers, as was expected. They were working in Bastar till 1972. The last batch of S. F. X. members was Frs. Satya, Tony D'Souza, Ubaldo Fernandez and Bro. Rosario Fernandez.
The Beginning of Bastar Mission
It was the time the CMI congregation was entrusted some mission areas in North India, like Chanda (1962) and Sagar (1968). Impressed by the effective pastoral care rendered by the CMI missionaries, Arch Bishop Eugene D'Souzsa was planning to entrust the CMI congregation some other areas too. Monsignor John Weidner and his advisory committee were very much interested to entrust the CMI congregation the Bilaspur and Bastar areas together. According to a letter to Fr. Prior General dated 22, April 1970 written by Fr. Liguory Mundackal CMI, Arch Bishop Eugene D'Souzsa changed his mind with a new idea that, congregations with less personnel like C.S.T, or congregation of Blessed Sacrament, can be given the developed Bilaspur area and CMIs can be entrusted with the Bastar region because CMI congregation has enough members to take care of such a vast area like Bastar. According to the letter it was not at all acceptable to Monsignor John Weidner and his advisory committee. This lack of understanding delayed almost three years the allotment of mission areas to the congregation. Taking into consideration the then socio-political and cultural scenario of Bastar region, Fr. Liguory in his letter warns the congregation, in case Bastar alone is entrusted to CMIs, the congregation should rethink about taking it up as our mission. But the burning missionary sprit of the members of the congregation was so high that the congregation was ready to face any kind of challenges to spread the good news. This missionary aptitude was expressed in a letter dated 9 June 1971 written by Rev. Fr. Romanus CMI the then provincial of St. Joseph's province, Kottayam to Rev. Fr. Prior General, that St. Joseph's province was ready to take up Bastar area for the mission work. In this regard Fr. Prior General of CMI Congregation received a letter (Port. N. 4764, 27 May 1971) from the Apostolic Nunciature, Delhi, informing that the Congregation of Propaganda Fide had decided to entrust the CMI congregation the district of Bastar and five districts of Meerut. In this context Fr. Romanus CMI, the provincial of St. Joseph Province Kottayam in a letter (9 June 1971) to the Prior General, expressed the earnestness of the province to get a mission area for its zealous youngsters to work for the Lord. As a reply to the Provincial's request Fr. Canisius CMI the Prior General after getting the information with regard to the allotment of mission areas from the Nunciature Delhi, officially informed (No.CM 15/71, 12 July 1971) the provincial that the territory of Bastar was assigned to the St. Joseph's Province Kottayam and requested them to begin the immediate preparation to take over the Bastar mission.Mean while the allotment of Bastar region to CMI congregation was also notified to the Society of Pilar by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide and instructed them to continue their work in Bastar till the transfer of jurisdiction come into effect. As soon as the declaration of the allotment of the mission area was made, the names of three priests were proposed to the Holy See by the congregation (No. CFL 3/71, 24 June 1971) as the potential candidates for the office of the Ecclesiastical Superior in Bastar.
The Apostolic Exarchate of Jagdalpur
The Holy Father Pope Paul VI erected the new Apostolic Exarchate of Jagdalpur and appointed Paulinus Jeerakath CMI the Apostolic Exarch on 23 March 1972 in Rome by the Papal Bull "Indorum gentes" and it was published in the "Osservatore Romano" on Saturday the29th of April.In 1972 before the promulgation of the Papal Bull "Indorum gentes" Fr. Paulinus Jeerakath CMI had been elected provincial of St. Joseph's Province Kottayam. In the same year when he was appointed as the Exarch of Jagdalpur by Rome, he immediately circulated a letter (5 May 1972) to convene the Provincial Chapter on 13 May 1972 in order to elect the new provincial and provincial secretaries. In the same letter he also requested spiritual and financial help from the monasteries of the province and asked the members of the province to volunteer to go to the Bastar mission. The Provincial Chapter elected Rev. Fr. Romulus CMI as the new provincial of St. Joseph's Province Kottayam.
Immediately after the declaration of the erection of Jagdalpur to the state of Exarchate, Mar Paulinus Jeerakath, the appointed Exarch sent a two member committee, Fr. Simon Stock Palathra CMI (Mar Simon Stock Palathra CMI, the present Bishop of Jagdalpur) and Fr. Joseph Varkky Puthanpura CMI, to Bastar on May 1972, in order to have an appraisal of the mission to be taken over. After a short visit they reached back to the province and started the immediate preparation in the leadership of the Mgr. Paulinus Jeerakath CMI, to come and take charge of the Exarchate. The missionaries were given an official send-off on 22 June at Mannanam, the mother house of the CMI congregation by the Province. Since Msgr. Paulinus Jeerakath had to undergo an appendicitis operation, Fr. Simon Stock CMI and Fr. Edmand (Kurian) Macheril CMI with four Rev. Sisters of the CMC congregation and a maid started their Journey to Bastar on 23 June 1972. On 26 June they reached Jagdalpur. On the same day they went to Kirandul, a station about 125 kms from Jagdalpur, with Pilar Fathers and Fr. Kurian Macheril was entrusted with the charge of the school and the parish at Kirandul. The Sisters of the CMC congregation stayed there to help in the parish and school. Fr. Simon Stock came back to Jagdalpur and took charge of the parish and social activities that the Pilar fathers had stared. According to Bp. Simon Stock the Pailar fathers had extended their pastoral care to Geedom and Bijapur, centers 74 and 162 kms respectively away from Jagdalpur and he had visited the places before the Pilar Fathers left Jagdalpur. Four days after of their arrival the second batch of missionaries, Fr. Joseph Varkky Puthanpura CMI and two Sisters reached Jagdalpur.
On July 19th Rev. Fr. Theobold, the Prior General and councillors gave an official send-off to Msgr. Paulinus and team, from the part of the congregation at the Generalate Ernakulam. On the same day Msgr. Paulinus and Fr. Abraham Thuruthumalil CMI started their journey to Bastar. On 22 July they reached Jagdalpur and on 23 July 1972, on the octave of the feast of our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Papal Bull 'INDORUM GENTES' OF 23rd March, erecting the Apostolic Exarchate of Jagdalpur, was formally promulgated during the Holy Liturgy. On the same day Msgr. Paulinus took canonical possession of the new exarchate as the first Apostolic Exarch. Thus July 23 ever remains a historic date in the annals of the CMI mission in Bastar.