On the eve of his departure for his 43rd Apostolic Journey abroad, Pope Francis paid a visit to the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major to entrust his visit to Mongolia to the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to a statement by the Holy See Press Office, the Holy Father spent some time in prayer before the ancient icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani.
On Thursday afternoon, 31 August, before leaving Santa Marta for Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, Pope Francis greeted 12 young people of various nationalities, who are guests in the “Dono di Misericordia” (Gift of Mercy) Dormitory. They have spent the past few days helping the Dicastery for the Service of Charity in preparing food supplies to be sent to Ukraine. The Holy Father then went to the airport where, at 6:41 p.m., on an a330/ita Airways aircraft, he departed for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
After departure, Pope Francis passed through the cabin and greeted the 70-odd journalists covering his Apostolic Journey. In off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope said his visit to the Asian nation would be a chance to embrace silence. “To go to Mongolia is to go to a [numerically] small people in a vast land”, he said. “Mongolia seems to have no end, and its inhabitants are few, a people few in number of a great culture. I think it will do us good to understand this silence, so vast, so big. It will help us understand what it means: not intellectually but with the senses. Mongolia is to be understood with the senses. Let me say that it would do us good perhaps to listen to a little of Borodin’s music, which was able to express what this breadth and greatness of Mongolia means”.
During the flight the Pope also greeted Eva Fernandez Huescar, a journalist with Radio Cope. She presented him with a water canteen that belonged to a Ukrainian soldier who was wounded by an explosion. The Pope blessed the shrapnel-riddled canteen, which the soldier had given to a church in Lviv to thank God for the gift of his life. Ms Fernandez plans to return the canteen to the church after the visit to Mongolia has concluded.
The aircraft landed at “Chinggis Khaan” International Airport in Ulaanbaatar on Friday 1 September at around 9:51 a.m., local time. The Holy Father was welcomed by Church and government delegations. Among them were Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar; Monsignor Fernando Duarte Barros Reis, chargé d‘affaires at Mongolia’s Apostolic Nunciature; Ms Davaasuren Gerelmaa, the Ambassador of Mongolia to the Holy See; and Ms Battsetseg Batmunkh , Mongolia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. A young woman dressed in traditional clothing offered the Pope a cup of Aaruul (boiled yogurt) made from the milk of cattle, yaks and camels.
After a brief, private conversation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Holy Father was driven to the Apostolic Prefecture, where he was welcomed by a lively group. The Pope was given a stole and a bouquet of flowers by some of the children present. After this warm welcome at the Nunciature, the Holy Father was driven to the city centre to continue his historic Apostolic Journey in the land of the eternal blue sky.