Filipino Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, the first Catholic bishop of Mongolia, died on Sept. 25. (Photo by Joe Torres)
Filipino Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, the first prelate of Mongolia, the world's youngest Catholic Church, died on Sept. 25 at age 68.
The bishop, who was a member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, reportedly died of a heart attack in Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar.
"Our sincerest condolences and prayers to the church in Mongolia and to his family and friends," read a statement from the congregation in the Philippines.
Caritas Asia also expressed sadness over the prelate's sudden death.
"We will always remember him as an inspiration for his passion in serving others and commitment to his work," it said in a statement.
The church aid agency said Bishop Padilla was "a strong supporter of Caritas' work."
The bishop told the Aid to the Church in Need four years ago that when they first arrived in their mission area, the missionaries had to start from "scratch."
"The first Holy Masses were held in a hotel. After that we rented apartments and forged initial links with believers through international organizations and embassies," said Bishop Padilla.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan recalled the late prelate's dedication to his mission.
"I saw how much he loved his little flock in Mongolia. I also noted his genuine respect for Mongolian culture. His simplicity and humility were very edifying," Bishop David said.
Born in 1949 in Tubao in the northern Philippine province of La Union, Bishop Padilla entered the seminary in 1960 and in 1976 was ordained a priest.
He was a missionary in Taiwan and, for six years, a provincial superior of the Chinese provinces of his congregation.
When in 1991 Mongolia and the Holy See established diplomatic relations, he was sent as a missionary to Urga (Ulanbataar's old name).
In April 1992, he was appointed ecclesiastical superior of the mission of Urga where he took care of street children, the homeless, people with disabilities, and the elderly.
On July 8, 2002, Pope St. John Paul II established the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar and named the missionary its first prefect.
On Aug. 2, 2003, Bishop Padilla received the titular see of Tharros. He received his episcopal consecration on Aug. 29, 2003, from Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe.
In 2016, Bishop Padilla ordained Mongolia's first native-born priest, a young man he baptized as a child years ago.
Today, the local church has 20 foreign missionaries and 50 nuns from 12 religious congregations working for about 1,300 Catholics.
The prelate, along with other Asian bishops, had just attended a pilgrimage in Seoul from Sept. 10 to 14.
The highlight of the pilgrimage was a ceremony officially declaring Seoul as an international pilgrimage destination by the Vatican.