Pope Francis makes historical trip to Mongolia

ACN to accompany Pope’s visit to the country that forms a bridge between central and east Asia.

Pope Francis will be in Mongolia from 1 to 4 September, to visit the very small but growing Catholic community and meet with other religious leaders in the country. The head of ACN projects for Central Asia, Peter Humeniuk, and the director of ACN International’s press office, María Lozano, will be travelling to Mongolia for the Papal visit.

The interior of the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral
The interior of the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral

With his trip to the East Asian country in early September, the Holy Father stays true once again to his motto of going “to the peripheries”. Christians in Mongolia are not even 2% of the total population, around 62,000 people, only a small proportion of which are Catholic. Around 58% of the 3.2 million inhabitants profess Buddhism, and 5% are Muslims.

According to Vatican figures, Catholics in Mongolia number under 1,500 people, but the small community awaits the first papal visit to the country with great enthusiasm.

“I am very excited to see the Pope in Mongolia, and I believe that it will bring hope and enthusiasm for the Church, but also for the people who are not Christians. Mongolia is a Buddhist dominated country, so the Pope’s visit will also help our interreligious dialogue to be more friendly and fruitful. He will meet with Mongolian Buddhist monks, and also with other religious leaders, so it will be really helpful for our community and for dialogue” Cecilia Munkhzul Zoljargal , head of Media and Communication at the Apostolic Prefecture in Ulaanbaatar, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Munkhzul Zoljargal (Cecilia) talking about the upcoming Pope's visit
Munkhzul Zoljargal (Cecilia) talking about the upcoming Pope’s visit

In contrast to its large neighbour China, Mongolia enjoys extensive freedom of religion. However, challenges raised by rapid economic and social changes have made some local authorities wary of religions, hence the importance of the visit in the context of interreligious dialogue.

ACN has supported small projects in Mongolia in the past, including the provision of Mass stipends for priests, general repairs for the cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in the capital Ulaanbaatar and, more recently, in 2020, the purchase of a new car for one of the congregations working in the country. The charity is also supporting the local Church with some projects to make possible Pope Francis’ historic forthcoming visit to the east Asian country.

“Mongolian Catholics need the Pope’s visit for visibility and international support, because for many years nobody has even thought about their existence. Missionaries started from scratch in a wild steppe, all alone, and put in a lot of effort to build a community of Catholic Mongolians, which deserves attention”, says Peter Humeniuk, head of ACN projects for Central Asia.

“In recent weeks we have been in contact with Bishop Giorgio Marengo, the Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, to discuss ways in which we can deepen support for the country’s Catholic Church in the short-term”, he said.

Humeniuk will be travelling to the country together with Maria Lozano, director of the international press office for ACN, to accompany the local Church during the historical papal visit.

A protrait of Maria Lozano (Head of Press at ACN)
A protrait of Maria Lozano (Head of Press at ACN)

“I think the Pope’s visit is important for the whole region. Strategically located between Russia and China, Mongolia is a neutral territory. Buddhists in Mongolia are peaceful and open to dialogue with the Vatican, whereas the Mongolian government follows social democracy, which does not create any obstacles. The country has the potential to become an important partner for the Holy See in east and central Asia and an example for other Asian countries”, says Lozano.

“This visit must be included in the list of trips with an important interfaith context, along with other travels such as Iraq, Kazakhstan or Bahrain. It is remarkable that Pope Francis does not hesitate to travel thousands of kilometres to live out fraternity and to enter into dialogue with other world religions”, she stresses.

“It is also an encouragement and a sign of affection for the Central Asian Bishops’ Conference, which brings together Catholics from all the former Soviet countries of the region: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan… These are minority Churches, and the Pope follows a leitmotif of giving prominence to minorities who, in their smallness, also give life and light to the universal Church”, Humeniuk adds.

“Just as the Holy Father wants to go to the peripheries, our foundation also wants to serve Christians in the peripheral areas. Dedicating our attention to our brothers and sisters in these countries – where they are a small flock – is one of the priorities of my section”, he states.

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