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First Cathedral Takes On ´Character Of The People´

Updated: August 31, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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Blessing any new home in Mongolia is a big event, and the consecration of the first Catholic cathedral here was no exception.

More than 500 people attended the Aug. 30 consecration of unfinished Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ulaanbaatar, where the head of the Church in Mongolia, Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, had been ordained a bishop the day before.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Vatican´s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, presided at the consecration as he had at the episcopal ordination of the head of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar.

Also present were Seoul-based Apostolic Nuncio to Mongolia Archbishop Giovanni Battista Morandini, government officials, foreign ambassadors and Buddhist lamas, as well as local and expatriate Catholics.

The cathedral has a round central structure that looks like a "ger," a traditional Mongolian felt tent. Most Mongolian families in the countryside and on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar live in ger.

People gathered at the cathedral entrance ahead of the consecration to view the holy relics to be placed in the cathedral altar.

Predak Stupar, the man architect, initiated the proceedings by presenting the ground plan and legal documents of the building to Cardinal Sepe.

The Serbian architect briefed the cardinal on the building´s main features and explained the artistic expression in its design. He later told UCA News the cathedral is almost 90 percent complete.

Two children carrying candles than accompanied a priest carrying the relics into the otherwise unlit and unadorned cathedral. The candles were placed next to the ger-shaped tabernacle and the statue of the Blessed Mother.

Outside the cathedral it was cloudy and overcast, so the circular window on the roof and the stained glass windows did not admit much light.

The people quickly filled the seats and Cardinal Sepe began sprinkling the walls and the people with holy water.

In his homily, Cardinal Sepe summarized the growth of the Mongolian Catholic community, which he said started without any local community or structures. Bishop Padilla arrived in 1992 with two confreres after Mongolia and the Holy See established diplomatic ties several months earlier.

Comparing the structure of the building to the structure of the local Church, the cardinal said: "The community of God is evolving; your structure is evolving with you. It has even taken on the character of the people. Until now your community has been nomadic ... and at last here is this cathedral, the first Catholic structure in this country."

He encouraged Mongolian Catholics to be proud of their heritage, referring to historical roots of Catholicism in Mongolia that go back to the 13th century. He reminded them of the wisdom and tolerance of Mongol emperors including Chinggis (Genghis) Khan and his descendants, who welcomed Catholic missioners and corresponded with the popes of their time.

Cardinal Sepe assured Mongolian Catholics of the love of Pope John Paul II. "My dear Catholics," he said, "I am glad to tell you that the successor of Peter, our good shepherd, loves you. He loves all Mongolian people."

The placing of relics into the altar followed, with the congregation silent and still as Cardinal Sepe said the prayer of dedication. He took off his chasuble and anointed the wooden altar with chrism, while Archbishop Morandini and Bishop Padilla anointed the crosses on the walls.

As the ceremony unfolded, parish priest Father Pierre Kasemuana explained in Mongolian what was happening and the significance of the actions.

After the altar was incensed and decorated with flowers and candles, the people rang out with song led by the children´s choir of St. Mary´s Church, one of two other parishes in the capital. The unfinished interior of the cathedral became almost unnoticeable amid the light and rejoicing.

Two middle-aged women dressed in Mongolian gowns and hats sprinkled milk in front of the cathedral entrance from silver cups. In Mongolian tradition, the blessing of a home involves the mother or grandmother sprinkling milk to the sky outside the ger.

Members of the community then brought forward cups of milk for every prelate and priest to drink, signifying the building is now their home. Traditionally, parents give cups of milk to their children who will live in the new ger.

Events concluded with a meal for all present, prepared by staff of the Verbiest Child Care Center, and a concert of Mongolian folk music and singing.

It was "just like the blessing of a ger anywhere in the country," an elderly woman commented.

Stupar told UCA News the cathedral seats 500 people as does the multi-purpose hall below the church. The buildings three wings were designed to house offices on the west, a library and pharmacy on the east, and a kindergarten and rehabilitation center on the south. The architect said he Bishop Padilla collaborated on the design.

The Mongolian Catholic Mission was established in 1992 and raised to a prefecture as it marked its 10th anniversary in 2002. There are currently 177 baptized local Catholics.


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