Pope Francis in Mongolia: For the Church the priority is not numbers
By Andrea Tornielli
Pope Francis is about to leave for Mongolia, a visit he has “longed for,” and one that was already contemplated in the unrealized plans of St. John Paul II, after missionaries revived a Christian community in the early 1990s. The Church that will receive the embrace of the Successor of Peter in the heart of Asia is a Church “small in numbers, but lively in faith and great in charity.” Pope Francis will meet not only the country’s 1,500 Catholics, but all the “noble” and “wise” Mongolian people with their great Buddhist tradition.
Why is the pope going to Mongolia? Why is he devoting five days of his schedule (two days of travel plus three days on the ground) to visiting such a small group of Catholics? Is “geopolitics” involved since it is a trip to a country that borders the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China? In fact, the motivation for the pilgrimage to the peripheries of Asia has no “geopolitical” implications and is certainly not the defining trait of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's pontificate.
On Monday, 30 November 1970, Pope St Paul VI made a long journey, reaching as far as the Samoan Islands in the Pacific Ocean. During the celebration of Mass in the village of Leulumoega Tuai, on the northwestern coast of the island of Upolu, he set aside the majestic “we” then used by pontiffs and said, “It is not a desire for travel nor any self-interest whatever that has drawn me to you. I come because we are all brothers and sisters; or, to put it another way, you are my sons and daughters and it is fitting that I, as father of the family that is the Catholic Church, should show each one that he has a right to equal affection. Do you know the meaning of ‘Catholic Church’? It means that the Church is for the entire world, that she is for all, that nowhere is she an alien. Each human being, whatever his or her country, race, age, or education has a place in the Church.”
The Church: a place for everyone. The Church, where the priority is not numbers and where no one is a foreigner, whatever language, culture, people, or nation they belong to. It is the Church “para todos” - for all - that Pope Francis spoke about in Lisbon. Less than a month after WYD, the Bishop of Rome is back on the road, telling his “brothers and sisters in Mongolia” that he is “happy to travel to be among you as a brother of all.”