· Vatican City ·

Interview with Cardinal Giorgio Marengo — Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Pope Francis’ visit an encouragement for Catholics

 Pope Francis’ visit  an encouragement for Catholics  ING-023
09 June 2023

The presence of the successor of St Peter in Mongolia will offer “a real encouragement for all the faithful and missionaries” and instil a sense of “deep joy” and “grace.”

In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the Apostolic Prefect of Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, the first-ever Cardinal of the country, expressed his joy in receiving Saturday’s announcement that Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Journey to the East Asian nation later this summer.

Matteo Bruni, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, made the following official announcement on Saturday: “Accepting the invitation of the President of Mongolia and the ecclesial authorities of the country,” said Mr Bruni, “Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Journey to Mongolia from 31 August to 4 September this year.” The Press Office Director added that the visit’s programme and further details will be released in the coming weeks.

In August 2022, Pope Francis made Cardinal Marengo the nation’s first-ever Cardinal, showing his closeness to the fewer than 1,500 Catholics in all of Mongolia.

In the interview, the Italian-born Cardinal, who has served Mongolia’s small Catholic flock since 2001, discusses the significance of Pope Francis’ upcoming Apostolic Visit, which will mark the first-ever papal journey to the country.

He also discusses the nation’s Catholic community, relations between Christians and other religions, and his hopes for the Pope’s visit.

Cardinal Marengo, how do you welcome Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Mongolia? What is the Journey’s importance?

It is of great importance! First of all, we welcome this official confirmation with deep joy and as an act of grace. I have already received several enthusiastic messages from many people, here in Mongolia, but also from all over the world. So many are saying “what good news!” And it is indeed good news.

This trip is a very important sign for the Church in Mongolia, a sign of care and closeness from the Holy Father for our small and young community. We were already aware of this closeness, because the Pope has always shown special consideration for the peripheries in the world, as special places of witness. But the presence of the Successor of St Peter at our side is a real encouragement for all the faithful and missionaries.

Tell us about the community that will welcome the Pope.

The Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar (which covers the entire territory of the country) counts about 1,500 local Catholic faithful, plus the few foreigners here for work or diplomatic assignments.

The missionary community consists of 75 missionaries, representing 10 religious congregations and 27 nationalities. It is a truly international and very diverse community. There are a total of 29 priests (of whom two are local), 36 women religious, six non-priest religious and three lay missionaries. There are nine officially registered places of worship.

The bulk of the missionary work takes the form of human promotion projects, flanked also by cultural research and inter-religious dialogue. The late Fr Stephen Kim Seong-hyeon, who suddenly passed away last week at the age of just 55, often confided to me, dreaming of a possible visit by the Holy Father, that it would probably be the only case of a particular Church where each and every member would be able to meet the Holy Father in person.

We thought with him that it would perhaps be possible to include all the faithful in one photo op with Pope Francis.

The Church in Mongolia is a poor and small Church, we are few, we do not have many resources. But in the small communities there is a particularly strong mutual care, and the bonds that are formed between people are marked by an uplifting sense of truth and authenticity.

This means that fraternal correction for example is very spontaneous, because people want the best for each other! There is something similar to the early Church. Which is not to say that there is no sense of history.

Formally, the Church in Mongolia was born in recent years, but in a rapidly changing world and in a country with a long history behind it, where traces of the Christian presence can be found at certain times. People who visit us from outside are often marked by something on the order of spiritual freshness. As a missionary who has served this Church for some 20 years, I can testify to this freshness.

Christians in Mongolia are a minority. How is the relationship with other faiths?

Interfaith coexistence is a heritage that comes from afar and is rooted in the tolerant policy of the Mongolian Khan [rulers in the 1200s]. Christianity was already known and practised around 1000 and we like to ideally reconnect with this ancient tradition.

Last year, we celebrated the first 30 years of effective presence of the Catholic Church in the country in contemporary times. Interreligious dialogue is part of evangelisation, not so much as a strategy, but as a means of witness for the Church.

The interreligious relationship is like a friendship, a story always based on mutual trust and built over time. It is about experiencing together, walking together. The notion of minority comes from outside observation, but here, people do not think in these terms. They think rather about how to live in faithfulness to the Gospel every day.

What fruits do you hope the Holy Father’s presence will produce for Mongolia and Asia?

It is important that Mongolia be better known in the world, precisely because of its cultural and religious richness, as well as its history. The Holy Father’s visit will certainly contribute to bringing to the forefront the beauty of this land and the nobility of its people, custodians of very deep traditions that have always characterised this region of Asia.

For the small Catholic community, of course, it will be a special gift of grace, thinking of the silent and fruitful work of so many missionaries who have given their lives for the Gospel and continue to do so, far from the spotlight, for the sole good of the people to whom they have been sent.

My hope is that this journey will mark a further step in building relationships of trust and friendship, within which the Gospel is lived and witnessed.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov