OULAN-BAATAR, Mongolia (CNS) — In a yurt-shaped cathedral, Pope Francis met with leaders of Mongolia’s small Catholic community, offering them encouragement but also reminding them that faith and unity must be center of their life.
Without daily prayer and respect for the structure and unity of the Church, “our strength will fail and our pastoral work will risk becoming a meaningless delivery of services, a list of duties that end up only inducing weariness and frustration,” the pope said. September 2.
At the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar, the Pope met with Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, as well as the priests, religious and lay volunteers who take care of the 1,450 Catholics of Mongolia and offer education, health care health, food, shelter and other social support to thousands of people. others.
Bishop José Luis Mumbiela Sierra, head of the Diocese of the Holy Trinity in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia, as well as other bishops from the region also attended the meeting.
Before entering the cathedral, Pope Francis was greeted with a glass of milk in a ger, a traditional Mongolian dwelling on the cathedral grounds. He entered and met Tsetsege, a Mongolian woman who uses only one name, who had found a statue of Mary in a rubbish dump before Christian missionaries arrived in the country. She showed it to the first Catholic she met, a Salesian sister, and she is now venerated inside the cathedral as Our Lady of Heaven.
Father Consolata Ernesto Viscardi, who has lived in Mongolia for 19 years, told reporters: “It is a big surprise” that the pope is traveling so far to visit “the smallest Catholic community in the world”, but it is also the “Bergoglio style”. a reference to the pope’s surname.
The papal visit draws the world’s attention to Mongolia, he said, but it is also a powerful sign for Mongolian Catholics that they are part of a universal Church.
The big challenges for Catholic missionaries in the country, he said, are: finding ways to connect with young people, making the Church truly Mongolian – “otherwise we would only be making a new colonization” – and, finally, continue to serve the poor and the poor. suffer while being aware that it is not a “foreign NGO” in the eyes of the government.
Pope Francis praised Church workers for making love for the poor their “visiting card”, but assured the government and those who distrust the Church that “the Lord Jesus, in sending his disciples into the world, did not send them to propagate political theories, but to bear witness by their lives to the newness of his relationship with his Father, henceforth “our Father”.
“Governments and secular institutions have nothing to fear from the evangelistic work of the Church,” he said, because the Church “has no political program to advance but is supported by the quiet power of God’s grace and a message of mercy and truth, which is meant to promote the good of all.
With missionaries coming from dozens of countries trying to form a Catholic community with Mongolian Catholics, Pope Francis insisted that “unity in the Church is not a matter of order and respect, nor simply a good ‘teamwork’ strategy.
Communion, he says, is “a matter of faith and love for the Lord, of faithfulness to Him. It is therefore important that all the ecclesial elements remain firmly united around the bishop, who represents Christ living in the midst of his people, and build the synodal communion which we preach and which greatly contributes to the inculturation of the faith.
Pope Francis listened to the “testimonies” of three people: a member of the Missionaries of Charity, a lay catechist and one of only two priests born in Mongolia.
Sister Salvia Mary Vandanakara told the pope about her arrival in 1998 and her life among the poorest of the poor, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta taught her sisters. One of the first activities was to organize lessons for children who were at risk of not completing their studies, she explained. One of these boys is now a priest.
The priest, Father Peter Sanjaajav, told the pope that his visit shows the Mongols that God “is with the people, with us, the Mongols. It is wonderful to understand that God is so close to our daily life.
And Rufina Chamingerel, a lay pastoral worker, told the pope that the young church in Mongolia – which only opened its doors to missionaries in the 1990s after decades of communist repression – “finds itself in this phase typical of children who constantly ask their parents questions.
Mongolian Catholics rejoiced last year when Pope Francis named their Apostolic Prefect, Bishop Marengo, a cardinal, she said. But they didn’t know what a cardinal was.
She thanked Pope Francis for the ongoing “synod on synodality” process, which she said gives local Catholics, especially catechists and other pastoral workers, a chance to discover “the true nature of the Church”.
Chamingerel also told the pope that she thinks Mongolian Catholics “are very lucky” that there aren’t many catechisms or other Catholic teaching materials in their local language, “but we have many missionaries which are living books”.
But the pope also expressed hope that ongoing negotiations between the Vatican and Mongolia as well as new legislation would facilitate the entry of Catholic missionaries into the country and expand their work not only of evangelization, but also of education and a wide variety of social services. .
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