Mongolian students abroad prepare to serve growing Church back home

2009-04-13 17:37:41
Mongolian Catholics studying in a northern Philippines university say what they have also been learning about their faith will help them contribute spiritually to their home Church. Bolortsetseg, 23, also known as Cathy, has been studying marketing at Saint Louis University in Baguio City. She says she wants to develop spirituality among Mongolian Catholics based on the prayer and fellowship she has observed among Filipinos. Churches full of praying people inspire her to join in the liturgy. "Back home, I don´t see many people filling temples," she explained. "I wish to help instill such kind of faith in my community." Ulaanbaatar apostolic prefecture, which covers Mongolia, has four parishes and six sub-stations. It had 530 Catholics on record ahead of Easter, when it was to baptize new members. No official statistics exist on religious affiliation in post-Communist Mongolia, where democratic changes in the 1990s introduced freedom of religion, but many people in the 2.5 million population adhere to a form of Tibetan Buddhism. Other religious communities include Muslims, mostly among the Kazakh minority, rapidly spreading Protestant denominations, and small groups of Bahais and Mormons. Other people follow shamanistic beliefs. "We have learned about many developments since we left our country four years ago, and we have to prepare ourselves for getting involved in this exciting moment in our history," Bolortsetseg said. She is looking forward to graduating on April 17. Three other Mongolian scholarship students also are enrolled in Saint Louis, run by the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM). The head of Ulaanbaatar prefecture, Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, is a Filipino of the same congregation. Bolortsetseg´s fellow student, Altansarnai, 23, who took Rose as her Christian name at baptism, said big Church celebrations including Easter and Christmas also have encouraged her. The student from the Mongolian capital, who also is waiting to graduate this month, says she too wants to share her experiences back home and invite young people in her community for catechism classes and Bible studies. The prefecture supported Altansarnai´s studies for a bachelor´s degree in commerce, majoring in financial management. After graduating, she could work for a charitable organization, a Church-run kindergarten or hospital, she said. Praying the Angelus daily is another practice Bolortsetseg and Altansarnai said they appreciate. The university community pauses every working day at 5 p.m. to recite the short prayer commemorating Christ´s incarnation. The youngest of the four Mongolians currently enrolled in Saint Louis, 19-year-old Munkhbat, or Chris, said he "looks forward to working in a CICM center for street children." A female student enrolled in social work was not available to be interviewed. Aside from Mongolians, the university´s 28,000 students include Koreans, Chinese and other foreign nationals. CICM missioners started it in 1911 as a one-room elementary school for ten boys. "The Catholic Church in Mongolia is sending Mongolian students ... to help poor but deserving students to obtain a career," Bishop Padilla wrote in an e-mail message. "For many of them, there´s no vested interest on the part of the Church. Some are not even baptized." The prelate said the Church was "just happy to render help" to them, hoping they can help their families and society. Some, however, are sent for specific courses -- education or social work -- in the hope they would work with the mission after their studies. But the bishop said the Church has "not been that lucky yet," because the graduates have chosen jobs with higher salaries elsewhere. In Mongolia, Religious from 10 institutes have established, or are running, two Montessori kindergartens, three primary schools, two centers for street children, a home for elderly people, two centers for handicapped children and a dormitory for female university students. Other Church projects include youth centers, libraries, farms, a technical vocational school and a care center for young women. Religious also have set up a hospital, clinic, bakery, supermarket and soup kitchen. Three CICM priests opened the Catholic mission there in 1992. Pope John Paul II elevated it to a prefecture in 2002, a year before appointing the mission superior, Monsignor Padilla, its prefect and first bishop.
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