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The Pope’s visit to Mongolia in 6 moments 

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Photo by Anand TUMURTOGOO / AFP

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 09/04/23

Here is a round-up of Pope Francis' trip to Mongolia, a central Asian country with around 1,500 Catholics.

From August 31 to September 4, Pope Francis visited Mongolia, as the destination of his 43rd apostolic trip abroad. This central Asian nation, which has only around 1,500 Catholics, welcomed Pope Francis with great excitement on this visit marked by geopolitical undertones and historical significance. 

Aleteia offers a round-up of the Pope’s main events and statements in the nation’s capital, Ulaanbaatar.

A map showing Pope Francis' stops during his trip to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia

1The first Pope to ever visit Mongolia 

After an over-nine-hour flight, the first pope to ever visit Mongolia landed in its capital on September 1, 2023, having left Rome the previous evening. After a welcome ceremony at the airport, the Pope went to the Apostolic Nunciature where he rested for the remainder of the day.

This didn’t stop small groups of citizens from waiting for him on the streets of Ulaanbaatar, or the government from organizing a traditional banquet in his honor. Although he was not expected to attend, the event was marked by several hours of performances manifesting Mongolian culture, including horse racing and archery. The Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, attended the celebration as the Pope’s representative.

Read Aleteia’s article on the event here. 

To listen to Pope Francis’ musical recommendation to learn more about Mongolia, click here.

2The Holy See and Mongolia: a long history of relations 

On September 2, 2023, Pope Francis participated in his first engagements in Mongolia, meeting with state leaders, politicians, local authorities and the diplomatic corps. Pope Francis met with the country’s president, Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh, and gave him as a gift a copy of an ancient manuscript held in the Vatican Library.

Dating from 1246, this letter showed some tensions at the time between Pope Innocent IV, and the ruler of Mongolia, the Khan Güyük, Genghis Khan’s grandson. However, Pope Francis wanted to remember it as a first historic contact between the two states and hoped it could be a “sign of an ancient friendship that is growing and being renewed.” 

Pope Francis meets with Mongolia's President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh during a courtesy visit at the State Palace in Ulaanbaatar

The Pope then gave a speech to the authorities, highlighting how Mongolia is and has been a promoter of peace and religious freedom throughout history.

“A profound spiritual sensitivity belongs to the very fibre of your cultural identity, and it is proper that Mongolia should be a symbol of religious freedom. In the contemplation of boundless and sparsely settled horizons, your people have developed a refined spiritual sense, born of nurturing silence and interiority,” the Pope explained.

He then highlighted how Catholics can also contribute to the future of the nation. 

“I am pleased that this community, however small and discreet, shares with enthusiasm and commitment in the country’s process of growth by spreading the culture of solidarity, the culture of universal respect and the culture of interreligious dialogue, and by working for justice, peace and social harmony,” the Pope said. “I am certain that Mongolian Catholics will continue to offer readily their proper contribution.”

3Our Lady of Heaven: from the garbage to a Cathedral 

After meeting the political representatives, Pope Francis went to the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul to meet the country’s small Catholic community, made up of only eight parishes and featuring the Church’s youngest cardinal. Before the event began he met with an elderly woman who more than a decade ago found a statue of Mary in the garbage. Our Lady of Heaven, as the statue is called, now has a special place in the Cathedral. 

Read Aleteia’s article on this astonishing story here

Pope Francis blessing Tsetsege, who some ten years ago had rescued a statuette of the Lady Mother of Heaven from a pile of garbage and later enthroned in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral

“Let us acknowledge too, all those many faithful servants of the Gospel in Mongolia who are here with us now and who, having spent their lives for Christ, can ‘see’ and ‘taste’ the marvels that his goodness continues to accomplish in you and through you,” Pope Francis told the clergy, missionaries, and other Church workers present, remembering also all those that have contributed to the evangelization of Mongolia in the last 30 years of Catholic presence in the country.

“The Lord himself has chosen you and believes in you; I am with you and with all my heart I say to you: thank you; thank you for your witness, thank you for your lives poured out for the Gospel!” 

Pope Francis departs the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral following his meeting with bishops, priests, missionaries, consecrates persons and pastoral workers in Ulaanbaatar

4A unique interreligious meeting

On September 3, Pope Francis met with 11 different religious leaders, representing the many faiths in Mongolia. He notably heard Kamba Nomun Khan, abbot of the Gandan Buddhist monastery in Ulaanbaatar, who highlighted, without stating names, the different persecutions that his Buddhist brothers have suffered in the past and still today. Buddhism is the majority religion in Mongolia.

The Pope then heard from representatives of the Shaman, Orthodox, Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim, Hindu, Evangelical, Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness communities.

“Here indeed, the sky, so clear and blue, embraces these vast and imposing lands, as if to remind us of the two essential aspects of human life: the earthly, made up of our relationships with others, and the heavenly, consisting in our quest for the transcendent Other,” the Pope said.

“Brothers and sisters, the social significance of our religious traditions can be gauged by the extent to which we are capable of living in harmony with other pilgrims on this earth and can foster that harmony in the places where we live.”

Pope-Francis-Ecumenical-and-interreligious-meeting-Hun-Theatre-Ulaanbaatar

5“Ciao, ni hao, viva il Papa”

On Sunday afternoon Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the Mongolian faithful and the hundreds of other Catholics that had come from neighboring countries. There were notably a number of Chinese Catholics that had come to see the Pontiff, despite a ban from their government. They had been noticed on the streets of the Mongolian capital, often covering their faces or avoiding questions from journalists. 

At the end of the Mass, in an unexpected and spontaneous move, Pope Francis sent a direct message to China, while taking by the hand the Bishop of Hong Kong, cardinal-elect Stephen Chow. The Pontiff asked Chinese Catholics “to be good Christians and good citizens.”

Ciao, ni hao, viva il Papa,” they shouted, a mix of Italian and Chinese meaning “Hi, hello, long live the Pope!”

Read Aleteia’s article on this strong moment here

Pope Francis being driven past a Chinese flag during his arrival for Holy Mass at the Steppe Arena in Ulaanbaatar

“In this life we often experience the desert with loneliness, fatigue and emptiness,” the Pope said during his homily to the around 2,500 faithful present. “The Christian faith is the answer to this thirst […] For in this thirst lies the great mystery of our humanity: it opens our hearts to the living God, the God of love, who comes to meet us and to make us his children, brothers and sisters to one another. […] For love alone truly quenches our thirst. Let us never forget: love alone truly quenches our thirst.”

6A House of Mercy inaugurated in Ulaanbaatar

For his last event on Mongolian soil, Pope Francis inaugurated the House of Mercy, a center for the Church’s charitable activities that will assist the homeless and others in need in Ulaanbaatar. “Though small in size, [the Church in Mongolia’s] life is marked by fraternal communion, prayer, selfless service to those in need, and witness to its faith,” the Pope said, remembering how the missionaries that came to the country in the 1990s “immediately sensed a summons to works of charity.” 

He noted his hopes that this new charity center will welcome people of all faiths, either as volunteers or as people using its facilities.

A “myth needing to be dispelled is that the Catholic Church, distinguished throughout the world for its great commitment to works of social promotion, does all this to proselytize, as if caring for others were a way of enticing people to ‘join up.’ No! […] Christians do whatever they can to alleviate the suffering of the needy, because in the person of the poor they acknowledge Jesus, the Son of God, and, in him, the dignity of each person, called to be a son or daughter of God,” Francis emphasized.  

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ChinaMongoliaPope Francis
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