Pope Francis will become the first pope to visit Mongolia, when he lands at Ulaanbaatar’s Chinggis Khaan International Airport on Sept. 1 for a four-day official visit to this Asian nation, which is home to some 1,500 Catholics.
The focus of the visit will be encounters with leaders of government and civil society and meetings with local Catholics. There will be an ecumenical and interreligious gathering as well as a Mass and the inauguration of a charity center.
Mongolia is a large country landlocked between Russia and China. A former communist nation, the country maintains close cultural, political and military ties with Russia, and China is its largest economic partner.
Of the country's more than 3.3 million people, about 1,300 are Catholics. Buddhists constitute around 52 percent of the Mongolia population, followed 3 percent Muslims, 2.5 percent Shamanists and 1.3 percent Christians. And, about 40.6 people have no religious affiliation, according to the CIA Factbook.
The tiny Church has just 29 Catholic priests but only two are Mongolians. The country has 40 women religious, three men religious and three lay missionaries. Together, 75 missionaries from 27 different nationalities and 10 different congregations serve the country, according to Cecilia Zolo, the communication officer of the Ulaanbaatar diocese.
The Ulaanbaatar diocese, based in the national capital, covers the entire country and currently has nine churches, six of them in the capital itself and three in the countryside. The parishes celebrate Masses in Mongolian, English and in Korean, particularly for a Korean community-based in Saint Mary’s parish.
English-speaking Mass goers come to three parishes, including the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, and they are mostly employees of international organizations and Filipinos, Zolo said.
The pope's trip, therefore, will be strategic to the Vatican, which has strained relations with neighboring China -- primarily due to apparent violations of an agreement between China and the Vatican which outlines procedures for the appointment of bishops -- and which has been seeking ways to halt the war linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
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