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First pope to visit tiny Catholic flock in Mongolia

Pope Francis arrived in Mongolia on Friday to kick off his historic four-day visit. He is the first pope to visit the Buddhist-majority Asian nation bordered by Russia and China.

Published: September 01, 2023 11:02 AM GMT

Updated: September 01, 2023 12:04 PM GMT

Pope Francis became the first pope to visit Mongolia when he landed at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in the national capital Ulaanbaatar on Friday. The pope is on a four-day official visit to the Buddhist-majority nation of about 3.4 million with some 1,500 Catholics. 

The visit focuses on encounters with leaders of government and civil society and meetings with local Catholics. The pope is scheduled to attend ecumenical and interreligious gathering, offer a public Mass and inaugurate a charity center.

A former communist state, Mongolia is landlocked between Russia and China. The country maintains close cultural, political, and military ties with Russia, and China is its largest economic partner.

About 52 percent Mongolians follow Buddhism, 3 percent are Muslims, 2.5 percent Shamanists and 1.3 percent Christians. About 40 percent of people have no religious affiliations. But the pope's visit has transcended religious and national barriers, resonating deeply with people from all walks of life, and fostering interfaith connections that bridge diverse belief systems.

Pope Francis (C) is seen after a welcoming ceremony at the Apostolic Nunciature to Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar on September 1, 2023

Pope Francis (C) is seen after a welcoming ceremony at the Apostolic Nunciature to Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar on September 1, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

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Four Asians have been named the winners of 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award, dubbed the Asian Nobel Prize, on Thursday.

The winners are Dr. Ravi Kannan from India, peace activist Miriam Coronel-Ferrer from the Philippines, Eugenio Lemos, a food sovereignty champion from Timor-Leste and Bangladeshi young social entrepreneur Korvi Rakshand.

Dr. Ravi Kannan R., an Indian cancer specialist, is seen at his desk. He is among the four winners of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award. (Photo: Ramon Magsaysay Foundation)

Dr. Kannan has been hailed as a hero of holistic healthcare for his pioneering work in cancer treatment and research for poor patients in India’s impoverished Assam state.  Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, a prominent women peacemaker, has played vital roles in peace negotiations between the government and armed insurgent groups in the Philippines and various countries.

Eugenio Lemos promoted innovative and organic farming among youth in Timor-Leste. Korvi Rakshand founded a non-profit organization that offered free education to thousands of poor and underprivileged children in Bangladesh. The winners will receive the awards on November 11th in Manila.

An Indian Catholic man has sued an archbishop and a parish priest in southern Kerala state for ‘contempt of court’ after refusing to solemnize his marriage in the Church.

Justin John, a member of Kottayam Knanaya Archdiocese in the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church filed the petition against Archbishop Mathew Moolakkatt and Father Sijo Stephan, the parish priest of St. Anne’s Church, in the Kerala High Court last Friday. John alleged that the Bishop and the parish priest have violated an earlier high court order by denying him mandatory marriage permission.

Justin John and Vijimol Shaji pose for photographs after their traditional marriage ceremony at St. Francis Xavier’s Church in Kottody village in southern Kerala state on May 18. They were denied sacramental marriage following the endogamy practice of the Kottayam Knanaya Archdiocese. (Photo: supplied)

John’s marriage with Vijimol Shaji from Tellicherry Archdiocese was fixed for May 18. But John’s parish priest refused to issue the mandatory marriage permission, forcing the couple to marry in front of a closed church by garlanding each other in presence of guests.

The archdiocese follows centuries-old practice of endogamy and bans marrying outside the close-knit Knanaya community. A civil court declared the practice illegal in April 2021. 

Catholic bishops in Sri Lanka issued a statement on Tuesday, urging the government to address the economic woes of citizens as prices of essential items have skyrocketed in the crisis-hit nation.

The statement said the economic condition has worsened, forcing children to go to school without proper nutrition, proper clothing and the exercise books and school stationery they need. Bishops noted that parents are unable to fulfill the educational needs of their children.

A vendor arranges vegetables at a market in Colombo on July 4. There is no price control for essential goods in the market and many people are on the verge of starvation in bankrupt Sri Lanka, say Catholic bishops. (Photo: AFP)

Reports say millions of Sri Lankans are on the verge of starvation while the government fails to control price of essential goods in the market. There is a severe shortage of medicines in hospitals and many people are unable to meet their health needs.

Charity organization Save the Children said that half of the families in the country of 22 million are forced to cut the amount they spend on their children’s food due to economic hardships.

Bangladeshi protesters marched Wednesday demanding information on hundreds of people who disappeared during the nearly 15-year tenure of ruling Awami League party of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Supporters of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies joined families of those missing to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, many with black gags over their mouths.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) activists form a human chain to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, along a street in Dhaka on Aug. 30. (Photo: AFP)

The government denies the allegations of disappearances and extrajudicial killings, saying some of those reported missing drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe.

Human Rights Watch reported that security forces have committed "over 600 enforced disappearances" since Hasina came to power in 2009, and nearly 100 remain missing. The group said the others were later released, produced in court, or reported to have "died during an armed exchange with security forces."

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference has urged his country’s bishops to lead people towards peace in war-torn Myanmar. Bo made the call during the episcopal ordination of Bishop Henry Eikhlein of Pathein in St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Irrawaddy division of southern Myanmar last Friday.

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Thousands of Catholics attended the ordination where Cardinal Bo led the Eucharistic celebration along with Msgr. Andrea Ferrante, Charge d’ Affairs of the Vatican to Myanmar, bishops, and priests. Pathein diocese has been unharmed so far though the dioceses of Loikaw, Pekhon, Hakha, Kalay, and Mandalay are among worst-hit areas.

In this photo taken on March 8, 2023 members of ethnic rebel group Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) take part in a training exercise at their base camp in the forest in Myanmar's northern Shan State. (Photo: AFP)

The fighting between the military and resistance forces saw churches, convents, and institutions attacked and destroyed while civilians were killed and injured.

United Nations Security Council said that over 18 million people need humanitarian assistance, 2 million are displaced, and over 15 million are food-insecure in Myanmar.

China’s communist authorities in restive Xinjiang region have detained an ethnic Kazakh Muslim man for allegedly reciting Quranic verses during a wedding and in people’s houses. The arrest is seen as a renewed clampdown on religious and ethnic minorities in the communist nation under the so-called “strike hard” campaign.

56 year old Kusman Rehim, a resident of Xinjiang's Jimsar county, was arrested on July 14. However, the news of his arrest became public recently. Police allegedly raided his house and found a Quran.

Muslims leave a Mosque after Friday prayers in Hotan, in China's Xinjiang region on June 23, 2017. Increasingly strict curbs imposed on the mostly Muslim population including ethnic minority Kazakhs have stifled life for Muslims. (Photo by Johannes Eisele / AFP)

Rights activists say Kusman had been locked up before due to his religious beliefs. The arrest comes in the backdrop of the latest 100-day “strike hard” campaign launched in Xinjiang which includes raids to the homes of the residents.

In 2017, the authorities banned the recitation of the Quran in public in the region, a home to Muslim-majority ethnic Uyghur and Kazakhs. The ban came at a time when China launched a brutal crackdown on Muslims in the region in the name of counter-insurgency measures.

Civic and religious groups including the Catholic Church in South Korea have joined hands to launch a project seeking to offer counseling services to the bereaved family members of suicide victims.

The groups launched the “Salsa Project” as the East Asian nation continues to top the list of developed countries with the highest suicide rate. The group also held a forum themed “Caring for the bereaved family” at the Korean Buddhist History and Culture Museum in the national capital Seoul in the third week of August.

Civic and religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have joined together for a project to support family members of suicide victims in South Korea. (Photo: CPBC)

Reports say about 91 percent of the family members of suicide victims feel depressed, placing them in a high-risk group for mental health.

South Korea has the highest suicide rates among 38 developed nations. In 2021, an average of 37 people took their lives per day.

Filipino Catholics have welcomed a church move for sainthood of a 13-year-old girl three decades after her death.

The Diocese of Laoag in northern Philippines has recently issued an edict inviting testimonies from people to proceed with the cause of canonization of Niña Ruiz-Abad for her piety and devotion to Mary.

Catholic Church in the Philippines is pushing for sainthood of 13-year-old Niña Ruiz-Abad who died in 1993 for her piety and strong devotion to the Eucharist and Mother Mary. (Photo: CBCP)

Abad died in 1993 from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an incurable heart disease. Abad spent half of her life in Laoag before her death in 1993 and was buried there.

Laoag Bishop Renato Mayugba said that the diocese has already received testimonies from Abad’s classmates and teachers.

Abad’s lawyer-parents moved to Manila from Ilocos province in 1993 where she died in the same year.

She was diagnosed with heart disease at the age of 10. The Philippines has produced two saints -- St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod, who were canonized in 1987 and 2012 respectively.

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