Praying for peace together in Mongolia on the Day of the Lord
By Linda Bordoni – Ulaanbaatar
A white theatre in the shape of a ger at the top of a hill, amidst the immense Mongolian landscape, provided the poignant backdrop for a deeply spiritual meeting on Sunday morning between representatives of the world’s main religions.
Referring to himself as a “humble heir” of ancient schools of wisdom, Pope Francis quoted the Buddha in this Buddhist majority nation and, yet again, called on all religions to live in harmony, upholding the common good and contrasting ideological fundamentalisms that – he reiterated - fuel hatred, violence, war.
His urgent call for a culture of fraternity and encounter has touched many hearts. It was beautiful to see that even in a country like Mongolia, where all religions were throttled by communist rule for 70 years, believers of different faiths flocked to Ulaanbaatar’s “Steppe Arena” to be with Pope Francis and with their Catholic brothers and sisters on the Day of the Lord.
All together they sang, danced and welcomed him; they were attentive during the readings, followed the liturgy - missal at hand - listened quietly during the Pope’s homily, and prayed in respectful silence during the celebration of the Eucharist.
The orange robes of Buddhist monks stood out as a splash of vivid colour, a poignant reminder, throughout the Mass, of a miracle of harmony in the happening. But of course, most of the 2,000 people gathered inside the Arena were Catholics, and they included virtually every single baptized Catholic of the land.
Celebrating the Pope’s presence in their continent, large groups of pilgrims from the Philippines, Vietnam and even China brought their own cultural identities to the Mass.
The Vietnamese pilgrims in bright pink and traditional straw hats also brought a specially choreographed performance for their Holy Father, while the Chinese waved their red flags in wonder and joy as they found themselves in the presence of the Pope.
In a section specially reserved for Ulaanbaatar’s expat community, an Indian businessman and his wife who live in Ulaanbaatar told me that, finally, they were in the presence of “the ambassador of God!” Had I been back home in India, he said, I would never have had the chance of seeing him up close amidst the country’s 20 million Catholics.
Two Russian nuns from Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, who had driven for two days to be here, managed to speak to Pope Francis on Saturday at the meeting with priests and religious in the Cathedral.
“I told him we want peace,” Sister Vera said, “that we are praying for peace.”