In the early spring of 1628, Father John Cabral, a Portuguese Jesuit, an emissary from Rome, with his fellow monks, traversed Kathmandu Valley while embarking on a Catholic mission to Shigatse in Tibet and Bengal in India. The Malla kings of the Valley, intrigued by these strangers clad in austere attire, extended hospitality to the Jesuits, allowing them to establish a mission. Thus, beginning the Christian Missionary in Nepal.
According to a historian and lecturer on Nepali Culture Dr. Jagaman Gurung, King Pratap Malla of Kathmandu received a binocular as a gift from a pastor, enabling him to observe a war between his neighboring kingdoms Patan and Bhaktapur. Also, within the “Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar”, a palace of fifty-five windows in Bhaktapur, there is an ancient mirror adorning one of the fifty-five windows of the palace gifted by a pastor.
Pope Clement XI, a Capuchin friar, who had reassigned the mission field to Tibet because their legation to Lhasa was never robust resided in the Valley and preached Christianity for over half a century until King Prithvi Narayan Shah, in 1769, after unifying Nepal, diplomatically asked them to depart. He also expelled more than 57 newly converted Christian Newars from Nepal to Bettiah (India) and banned any other religions except for Hinduism saying ‘there is no room for Christians in Nepal’. The Capuchins claimed to have baptized over 12,000 Nepalis in their 54-year residence. Nearly all were sick children given to their care and baptized before death, the friars content in the knowledge of their souls’ swift transport to heaven.
In 1950, after the fall of 10-year-old oligarch Rana rule and the advent of democracy, the political landscape of Nepal once again underwent significant changes when King Tribhuvan, the father of Nation, sought assistance from foreign organizations, including Christian Missionaries, in development activities. The Christian presence expanded, contributing to the establishment of mission hospitals and schools. American Jesuit Priest Marshall D. Moran built Nepal’s first convent schools St. Xavier’s and St. Mary’s upon the request of the ruling Education Minister Nrip Jung Rana in 1951. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in Nepal’s history, the Jesuit’s introducing modern education to the country. But these Jesuits adhering to specific conditions set by King Tribhuvan, focused solely on the Kathmandu Valley and refrained from proselytizing. However, the Panchayat era in the 1970s and 1980s witnessed religious restrictions and the Christian community faced persecution.
The journey of Christianity in Nepal is intertwined with the stories of missionaries like William MacFarleane in 1850s, the Australian Nepalese Mission (ANM) by John and Lillian Coombe in 1917, and organizations like Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RBMU) missionary Elisabeth Franklin from British-India and the Nepal Evangelistic Band (NEB) missionary Dr. Kitty Harbord became a hub for missionary activities, laying foundations for the growth of the Nepali Church. NEBnow the International Nepal Fellowship whose opening line on its website “Life in all it’s fullness for Nepal’s poor and disadvantages” operates in the most remote districts like Mugu and Humla.
Despite expulsion and challenges faced by Chandra Leela a Brahmin girl (1800s) to Ganga Prasad Pradhan (1900s) the first ordained Nepali pastor and translator of the Nepali Bible, from David Mukhia the first pastor in Nepal at the Ram Ghat Church in Pokhara (1950s) to Rajendra Rongong of RBMU also the great-grandson of Ganga (1997), laid a groundwork for the Christian community in Nepal. Once virtually non-existent, has now become a vibrant and growing part of the country’s diverse religious landscape. As of 2023, a survey by Nepal Research and Resource Network estimates above 2 million Christians in Nepal, whereas the official Nepal Census 2021 records only 512,313.
The post-secular shift in Nepal since 2008 and the new constitution established in September 2015 declared the country as a “Secular State” and it would protect the religion and culture handed down from time immemorial i.e Hinduism thereby making Conversion Law of Nepal, unholy and illegal. Article 26 of the constitution says each person shall be free to profess, practice, and preserve their religion according to their faith. But it has banned forceful conversion. It has categorically stated that “no person shall convert a person of one religion to another religion, or disturb the religion of other people” and “such act shall be punishable by law.”