Christ calls, Asians respond

Lent series 2023


When Buddhist girl grows up in Mongolian parish

By UCA News reporter

April 06, 2023 07:29 AM

Dashtsend Tsetseg Suren first entered the church holding her Buddhist father’s little finger

Dashtsend Tsetseg Suren

Dashtsend Tsetseg Suren (Photo supplied)

Dashtsend Tsetseg Suren was just three years old when she first walked into the church compound in Ulaanbaatar holding the little finger of her Buddhist father, who was one of the workers engaged in constructing the parish church.

During the Easter Vigil this year, the 14-year-old Suren will receive the baptism in the now-completed St. Sophia parish, which is under the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar, based in Mongolia’s capital.

The ninth grader started her catechism classes in 2021 with the guidance of Father Thomas Ro Sang-Min, the parish priest of St. Sophia parish.

“In the initial years, I did not know that this place was a religious place. I was still small and just came to eat something delicious,” she told UCA News.

“But now I come here to pray because I know the church is a place to meet with God.”

Her constant contact with the church people for almost a decade in her childhood, which also meant she joined church celebrations and feasts, helped her to become a part of the tiny Catholic community.

“I had a strong desire to join the Church and learn more about God, Jesus Christ. I will learn more. As of now, I am excited about receiving baptism. I look forward to it with great excitement and joy,” Suren said.

Suren finds the church precincts “peaceful.”

“I feel that there is something very special and ascetic that makes me relax and peaceful,” she said.

Dashtsend Tsetseg Suren gestures while posing for a photograph. (Photo supplied)

The teenager said she “used to be very angry and short-tempered” until a year ago. But after becoming a catechumen her behavior has been “greatly influenced by the lessons I learned during classes.”

The church teachings and religious celebrations helped her become peaceful, she said.

Suren is now involved in many charity activities of the parish. 

Helping the poor with compassion and forgiveness “gave me hope in living the Catholic faith,” she said.

Every Thursday, Suren joins the church charity activity at the garbage dump, where they distribute food and drinks to the poor who work there.

“My impression is that God works in many ways in the world. He works in the garbage dump through us to provide something for the poor to eat.”

None of her classmates or relatives is Catholic. But “I think that we are supporting each other and we are walking together on the path to the kingdom of God,” the teenager said.

Her sponsor, Minj Sophia, says Suren is “intelligent and smart.”

“She plays the Morin- Khuur [a two-stringed fiddle that figures prominently in Mongolia's nomad culture] very well,” Sophia said.

Dashtsend Tsetseg Suren gestures while posing for a photograph. (Photo supplied)

Suren has become “very persistent in everything. It is seen that she has studied catechism very well and is trying to live according to what the church teaches.”

Sophia said she often reminds Suren that “there will be ups and downs in the Catholic way of life, but God will always be with you.”

Sophia has also promised to help her in every way possible.

The Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar takes care of the tiny mission in Mongolia, a landlocked country dominated by sparsely populated steppe and semi-desert. It has some 1,300 Catholics in a population of 3.5 million, who are served by two Mongol priests, 22 foreign missionaries, and 35 nuns.

Catholicism arrived in Mongolia in the 13th century but became inactive with the end of the Yuan dynasty in 1368. The mission resumed in the mid-19th century but was forced to abandon after the communist came to power.

The mission was restarted in 1992, and the church celebrated 30 years of its rebirth in 2022 in a land that seems an unlikely base for a nascent Christian community.

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