The visit of Pope Francis highlights the importance of religion in contemporary life, religious leaders say
Pope Francis and a religious leader chat during an Ecumenical and interreligious meeting in Ulaanbaatar on September 3, 2023. Pope Francis will show support for interfaith dialogue during his final full day in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, a visit that has seen him seek to build bridges with China. (Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP)
Leaders of major religions have stressed cooperation between religions for peace and harmony during their meeting with Pope Francis in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar on Sept. 3 morning.
The ecumenical and inter-religious meeting at Hun Theater, a performing arts complex in Ulaanbaatar came on the final full day of his four-day visit.
The meeting, considered one of the highlights of the papal visit, drew leaders representing Buddhism, Shamanism, Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, and Christian denominations.
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Buddhist leader Dambajav Choijiljav, abbot of the Zuun Khuree Dashichoiling Monastery in Ulaanbaatar said people should develop “an open-minded approach to people of other faiths and even those who oppose religion itself.”
“We must learn to listen to and ponder views that seem contrary to our own, for it is only by doing so we can understand the basic principles that underlie all religions, and indeed the human mind itself,” he said.
Just like two pillars support the Mongolian ger, the traditional nomadic tent, the principles of “peace and harmony” should support people’s lives, he said.
“On the surface, these both seem to be a mere absence of conflict, but actually they are the positive conditions that make possible the cultivation of the spirit,” he added.
The abbot pointed out that the rapid increase in depression, addiction, and other types of mental illness around the world shows that technological change without spiritual development results in a “fragile house."
D. Jargalsaikhan, president of the United Union of Shamans of Mongolia, said Shamanists in Mongolia have worshipped “the Eternal Heaven” for generations, signifying the inseparable bond between Nature and human beings.
The worship of Heaven is a precious link between Nature and people intertwined in “a long-standing, difficult, painful, and instructive history of religion and worship.
From ancient times and during the powerful Mongol Empire, Shamanism maintained “a tradition of equal and mutually respectful relations,” he said.
The faith survived persecution and decline for over three centuries by foreign forces and restrictive laws, forcing people to practice the faith secretly, he pointed out.
However, the end of communism in the 1990s marked a resurgence of the faith.
Their faith, just like the Mongolian ger, is a symbol of harmony and unity where all are welcome, he said.
A Muslim cleric also echoed similar sentiments.
“The world is a Ger (home). To keep the world orderly and peaceful, we must live together as brothers in this ger,” he said.
In a world divided by conflicts, it is essential to promote "a culture of peace and respect for diversity" through peaceful gestures, the cleric said.
As the Quran teaches, people should "respect each other’s beliefs, and not ridicule, insult or provoke others” for peace and harmony.
Father Antony Gusev, the rector of the only Orthodox church in Mongolia, said the history of his church is linked with neighboring Russia, where Orthodox Christianity found roots in the 12th-13th centuries.
It now has some 200 members, mostly immigrants from former Soviet states. Despite the small numbers, the church is involved in various activities to promote dialogue such as managing an art college where children with disabilities can study, and hosts sessions for judo, sambo, boxing, and national wrestling, Gusev said.
Adiyakhuu Oktyabri, a leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said they focus on the development of four aspects of human life – physical, mental, social and spiritual – for “a well-balanced and happy life.”
Jewish leader Yair Jacob Porat also urged all faiths to recommit to making the world a better place.
Porat said the pope’s visit came just two weeks before "Rosh Hashanah" or Jewish New Year, which is “a time for universal reflection and a reminder of the shared responsibility for making the world a better place.”
D. Banzrag, executive director of Oomoto Center, a traditional Japanese Shinto religious organization, said that “all religions flow from the same source.”
Shinto followers have prioritized interfaith dialogue with activities such as the world pilgrimage for peace, the charity pilgrimage for the future and humanitarian aid activities in cooperation for years.
“We would like to continue to support inter-religious dialogue and work together to create a peaceful world,” Banzrag said.
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