The Sukhbaatar Statue in Ulaanbaatar The Sukhbaatar Statue in Ulaanbaatar 

Pope in Mongolia: A journey across steppes to embrace Catholic flock

The Director of the Holy See Press Office presents Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to Mongolia, noting that he will become the first Pope to visit the Asian nation.

By Salvatore Cernuzio

During a press conference on Tuesday, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, outlined Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Mongolia, from 31 August to 4 September. This will be the Holy Father’s 43rd Apostolic Journey and the 61st country he will have visited as Pope.

The location of Mongolia is geopolitically symbolic at a historical moment marked by the war in Ukraine. Pope Francis is likely to mention this in one of the five speeches he will deliver during the three-day trip, characterised by meetings with various institutional and social realities of the country.

The heart of the entire trip, however, will be the meeting with the small Catholic community, around 1,500 faithful. "The Pope is going to Mongolia to speak mainly to them, he will address words of encouragement and hope to this beautiful reality that offers an important contribution in the fields of human life," said Mr. Bruni.

The Church in Mongolia dates back to the beginning of the 14th century when the first bishop was appointed, when the Mongol empire included part of China; then over the centuries the presence of Christians in the area diminished, until it disappeared completely during the years of the communist dictatorship.

Since 1992, the Church has been 're-admitted' and 'invited to maintain a presence', reinvigorated in the last thirty years by the great work of the missionaries, first and foremost the Missionaries of the Consolata, a congregation to which belongs the first and only Cardinal of Mongolia, Giorgio Marengo, the Apostolic Prefect of Ulanbaatar, who received the red hat in last year's Consistory.

Meeting with the Catholic community and other religions

The Mass which Pope Francis will preside over on 3 September in the Steppe Arena enjoys a central position on his itinerary, especially considering the Church's historical background and the Church's small but active presence in the social field - so much so that an agreement between the Holy See and Mongolia on the work of Christians is being studied in recent months.

The 1,500 faithful who reside in Mongolia, 90% of whom live in the capital, will be joined by around a thousand faithful from various neighbouring countries, including Russia, China, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Vietnam.

Also on Sunday, the Pope will preside over an ecumenical and interreligious event in the Hun Theatre, in which representatives of shamanism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and other confessions will take part.

The event offers a sign of the vocation for peaceful coexistence which, stressed Mr. Bruni, has characterised the Mongolian people for decades. Government observers and representatives of universities will also be present at the meeting.

Mr. Bruni also answered questions about possible tensions with China over the meeting with representatives of Tibetan Buddhism, including a child considered to be the tenth reincarnation of Buddha, as well as about the possibility of a private meeting with Russian and Chinese Christians after the Mass.

He clarified that no private meetings are planned at the moment, and explained that the ecumenical and interreligious event will be attended by all religious groups, including Buddhists, the majority religion in Mongolia, which is very committed to peace.

As for possible references to neighbouring China, the Director of the Press Office recalled the Pope's words in the last Angelus on Sunday, 27 August: "The Pope was very clear on Sunday: he is going to Mongolia, he desires this meeting to which he looks forward with happiness and great respect. He greatly desires to meet the people. I would not add anything else. The journey is to Mongolia."

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29 August 2023, 16:12