Pope Francis will be the first Pope to visit the East Asian nation of Mongolia at the beginning of September 2023. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Pope Saint John Paul ii ’s Special Envoy to Mongolia in 2002 and 2003, recalls his experiences in the country and looks ahead to the Holy Father’s upcoming visit.
As the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples recalls, Pope Francis’ upcoming Apostolic Visit to Mongolia is a journey that Pope Saint John Paul ii had planned to undertake in 2003, after having entrusted the nation to Our Lady and established the first Apostolic Prefect in the country where the Catholic Church had to rebuild from scratch after 70 years of communist regime.
“I am in love with Mongolia! And with its beautiful, proud and friendly people!” said Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe as he recalled his experience in the East Asian country which he visited twice, as Pope Saint John Paul ii ’s Special Envoy during the years in which the Catholic Church there slowly started to grow in numbers and extension.
Frontier of evangelization
It was at the beginning of the millennium and the Polish Pope, Cardinal Sepe continued in an interview with Fides News Agency, was well aware that Mongolia represented a real frontier of evangelization, a place where the first missionaries were baptizing Catholics and setting up mission stations and churches where people felt supported, both spiritually and concretely with educational and livelihood programmes.
Unfortunately, John Paul ii was unable to undertake a scheduled journey to Mongolia in 2003 due to his deteriorating health conditions, but he sent Cardinal Sepe on his behalf, on two occasions — in 2002 and in 2003 — to show closeness to the nascent Catholic community there; to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Ulaanbaatar; to consecrate the Catholic Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar on a plot of land given to the Church by the Mongolian President; and to ordain Mongolia’s first Apostolic Prefect, Filipino Bishop Wenceslao Padilla.
The love of a pastor
“What Pope John Paul ii could not do”, Cardinal Sepe said, “Pope Francis is doing” as he prepares to travel to Mongolia from 31 August to 4 September, becoming the first Roman Pontiff in history to visit the country.
He will bring, he said, the care and the love of a pastor to the 1,450-strong Catholic community and continue to foster good diplomatic relations and crucial interreligious dialogue with the majority Buddhist nation.
It will be a wonderful journey, the Cardinal noted, speaking at length of the great beauty of the sparsely-populated land of boundless steppes where tens of thousands of wild horses roam the wild and where the majority of Mongolians live as nomads, following the seasons with their herds of sheep, goats and camels, always taking their homes and families with them.
Cardinal Sepe concluded with his personal recollection of the current Apostolic Prefect, the young Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, who lived in the country for three years to learn the language before founding his mission in 2006 in remote southern Mongolia, beyond the Gobi Desert, with the joy of a true Christian who knows he is never alone.
By Linda Bordoni