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Vicariate apostolic ; comprises the group of that name, besides the islands of Ellice and Panapa. The most important members of the group, which consists of sixteen low atolls, are Tapiteuca, Arorai, Apemama, Maiana, Marakei, and Nonouti, which cluster near the Equator, and constitute the most easterly link in the chain of islands which make up Micronesia. The natives are of Malay in type, and until the advent of the white man were given over to savagery and, in some instances, cannabalism. Nominally under the protection of Great Britain, the islands are practically self-governed, and a sort of republicanism prevails. The principal industry is the preparation and exportation of copra, which is very plentiful, although there is some little traffic in shark fins.
Upon the partition of the Vicariate of Micronesia, the Gilbert Islands were erected into an independent vicariate by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, dated 17 July, 1897, and the present vicar Apostolic, Mgr. Joseph Leray, titular bishop of Remesiana, was placed at its head, and, with several missionary priests from the Congregation of the Sacred Heart, he entered upon the evangelization of the islands. The population of the vicariate is estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000, of whom 14,000 are Catholics. There are 12 churches and 56 chapels under the care of 19 priests, 96 parochial schools, with an attendance of 1700 boys and 1500 girls, 2 schools for catechists with a combined attendance of 50, 12 orphanages which shelter 400 orphans, 11 houses of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart, with 35 religious, and 8 houses of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart with 20 nuns.
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