At an Aug. 27 consistory at the Vatican, Pope Francis elevated 20 prelates to the College of Cardinals. One of them was Bishop Giorgio Marengo, Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar.
The 48-year-old, the youngest member of the College of Cardinals, represents Mongolia in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia, formed in April this year. He took part in the first meeting of the conference, spoke about the peculiarities of the Catholic Church in Mongolia in the following interview.
He also shared his expectations about the visit of Pope Francis to Kazakhstan while speaking with the Catholic Information Service of Central Asia.
How long have you been serving in Mongolia?
As a missionary, I have been serving the Church in Mongolia for the past 19 years. I first came here in 2003. It was only in the last two years that I began to serve the Church as a bishop and apostolic prefect.
How does local society feel about the existence and activities of the Catholic Church?
I would say that the positive aspect of the Catholic Church in Mongolia is that it is like the little seed, that Jesus used to describe in the parables of the Kingdom of God. The Catholic Church is small but has the power to transform society. Although we show no signs of outward transformation, we like this comparison of the Church as a small flock in a society with completely different religious traditions and a different way of thinking.
That’s the beauty of the Church in Mongolia, to serve the Kingdom of God through humble witness, prayer life and service.
Perhaps it is through a life of service that such a large population is able to come into contact with the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is very active in social, educational and even in health programs.
The Church in Mongolia enjoys much respect through its involvement in such social projects.
Is there anything the Bishops Conference of Central Asia can do to help the mission?
I think, yes. Our projects can be supported. I mean they need support from outside as we don't have enough internal resources.
All our resources are directed toward serving society in fields such as education, social assistance, health care and interreligious dialogue.
We do our best to promote a culture of mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence and cooperation between different religious traditions. I am sure that the newly formed Conference of Catholic Bishops of Central Asia may be interested in participating in such programs because they really help to demonstrate the true essence of the Catholic Church.
What are the challenges to the mission? How do you assess relations with the state?
Perhaps one of the main problems is that becoming a Catholic is not considered something quite normal.
One has to be very determined and courageous to make this life decision. As I said, the vast majority of people follow other religious traditions.
When a person becomes Catholic, he or she can easily face misunderstandings in the family or even face suspicious attitudes from friends and family.
This is the main problem associated with the new Catholic faith in the region. Although history indicates that Christianity has been present in Mongolia for at least 1000 years, for a number of reasons it never become a popular religion.
Our activities may face some bureaucratic problems or obstacles, but we have a very positive and fruitful cooperation with local authorities.
What do you consider the main task of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Central Asia and how will it help you in your ministry?
First of all, I am very happy to have a circle of brothers around me, especially older brothers who are much more experienced than me, and I am sure that they will help me to better serve the Church.
Being in complete isolation, I felt the need to share experiences beyond the borders of our countries.
Certainly, this is the advantage of the newly formed episcopal conference because if we look at the history and culture of the countries, we will find a lot in common, along with some differences.
This aspect of unity, meetings in order to reflect, share experiences, pray, and make decisions together, in line with Pope Francis' teachings on the ability to recognize God's will and synodality, will certainly be an advantage of the new structure.
Perhaps some of the tasks that we have to solve together will relate directly to the regions under our responsibility, but there is an opportunity to make pastoral decisions and make plans that we can implement by analyzing and trying to determine their appropriateness in accordance with God will, together, as a whole, and not independently, I think, is a very big plus for us.
Can the Vatican setting up a bishops’ conference for Central Asia help the development of the Church in the region?
I think yes. The very fact that the Holy See has approved the establishment of this new episcopal conference is a sign that those who are responsible for the universal care of the Catholic Church see something positive in this project.
I hope that with their help and in union with them, we can develop common strategies and make our episcopal cooperation more effective, really bringing a lot of positive things in our places of service.
What are your hopes for the visit of Pope Francis to Kazakhstan? How timely and relevant is this visit?
I have high expectations from this visit. I am quite sure that it will become an important stage in the life of the Church in Kazakhstan and in the entire neighboring region.
I am very pleased to observe the wonderful tradition of Kazakhstan to unite people and develop an awareness of the importance of peace, harmony and mutual respect in such a difficult time for obvious reasons.
At such a moment, the visit of the Holy Father to this beautiful country with multi-confessionalism, I think, will certainly set a good example of fruitful cooperation for everyone.
I hope that this visit will also have a positive impact on other countries in the region, including Mongolia, although we are a little far away.
But I hope that this visit will be a good example of how the Catholic Church stresses interreligious dialogue, in cooperation with people of different religions. After all, Pope Francis is known as a promoter of the idea of the harmonious coexistence of different people and religions.
What would be your advice to Christians amid the complex challenges of the world?
I think I would invite everyone to develop and strengthen their personal relationship with Christ because our faith is based not on ideologies or philosophies, but on a real relationship with the living God.
In a world, where we tend to be divided and follow different patterns of behavior that are not always life-giving, I think the key is to strengthen and deepen our personal relationship with Christ.
This will be the anchor that will really keep us united with Him and with His Holy Church because only when we taste and see how good the Lord is, when we can remain faithful to Him, we can help other people to know Him.
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