Church strives to continue projects despite economic crisis

2009-03-31 18:28:08
On Bishop Wenceslao Padilla´s table stands a cardboard model of what is to be Mongolia´s first Catholic educational campus, located near the capital.

Bishop Wenceslao Padilla

The campus will include facilities providing education from elementary to university levels, a sports venue and park. However, the head of the Catholic Church in Mongolia fears the global economic downturn could have a negative impact on this and other Church projects, which are dependent on funding from donors abroad. In the short term, work can at least begin. The 59-year-old apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar recently returned from a fund-raising trip to Seoul archdiocese in South Korea. Supporters from two parishes raised US$300,000, just enough to lay the groundwork for the elementary school building, for which the total cost is estimated at US$2.5 million. "I was touched by the Korean people´s generosity when it came to helping Churches that are in need," Bishop Padilla said in an interview. Korean Catholics had told him they also were affected by the crisis. Among them was a woman who, short of cash, dropped her antique gold rings into a collection box. "I was moved... She gave till it hurt," the bishop said. "The rings must have been a treasured family heritage." While encouraged by the support, Bishop Padilla said he is concerned about funding of both the ongoing Church work and new projects. The Catholic Church Mission (CCM) needs US$150,000-200,000 annually to pay salaries, maintenance, taxes, transportation and other running costs, including some regular aid for poor people. It has 85 missioners and lay workers. Bishop Padilla surmised the CCM will feel the effects of the economic crisis to the extent that its primary donor institutions, mainly in the United States and Western Europe, feel it. The sustenance of ongoing projects including social work, street children centers, literacy training for school dropouts, and a center for mentally challenged children all rely on foreign financial aid. The bishop noted that CCM subsidies for its four parishes and six sub-stations amounted to US$55,000 in 2008. But the total cost of funding missionary work in the vast country was much more. The support private benefactors and Religious congregations provide to parishes was not included in the CCM statistics. In Mongolia, where six months of the year are so cold that heating is an absolute necessity, parishes and schools have to budget heavily for fuel. "Looking into the near and distant future, the many and various works that have been started must be continued and supported," Bishop Padilla stressed. "But it is a fact that up to now, the Catholic Church in Mongolia has no local income to sustain itself, except for the meager Sunday collections." These collections amount to about US$130 a week in a country where official statistics say one of every three people in the 2.5-million population lives under the poverty line. The only other local funding comes from annual tuition fees from the 250 students at the Don Bosco Technical School, equivalent to US$117 on average for each student. The challenges, however, are not new for the Filipino bishop, who arrived in Mongolia in 1992 as an Immaculate Heart of Mary priest. At that time the country was just starting to recover from 70 years under communist rule. He came with two fellow priests of his congregation to start the Catholic mission. Since then, the CCM has grown to 530 baptized Catholics. Its social and educational ministries reach about 2,500 people. Even though Bishop Padilla expects the funding situation to remain tight because of the global economic crisis, he sees his dream beginning to take shape as more than just a cardboard model. "It may take 20 years to complete," he acknowledged, but that does not diminish the excitement he feels about construction starting this year. "Digging starts in the spring," he said with a smile.
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