‘Vigorous in religion’: Pope Francis heads to Mongolia with eye on diplomacy | Faith Information

Pope Francis has a fame for visiting a few of the world’s most distant nations, even in locations the place Catholics are few in quantity. So, it will not be too shocking that this week he will likely be in Mongolia, a nation with simply 1,450 Catholics.

Francis will arrive within the Mongolian capital on September 1 and keep till September 4, with plans to satisfy the nation’s Catholic devoted, have fun mass and have interaction in inter-religious dialogue.

Speaking concerning the go to at St Peter’s Sq. on the Sunday earlier than his departure, the 86-year-old pope advised the gang the church there was “small in numbers, however energetic in religion and nice in charity”.

However there could also be extra to the papal go to than faith.

The pope’s schedule additionally features a full day of conferences with Mongolia’s political leaders, with conversations more likely to contact on Mongolia’s relations with its two large neighbours, Russia and China. That’s necessary now greater than ever as Francis seeks dialogue between the West and Russia to discover a means out of the now-18-month-old struggle in Ukraine.

The pope can be on the lookout for avenues to talk to China’s management over the governance of that nation’s estimated 10 to 12 million Catholics. The Holy See and Beijing haven’t had official diplomatic relations for greater than 70 years and relations between the 2 have been strained over the appointment of bishops and creation of dioceses regardless of an settlement on the difficulty in 2018.

The choir sings during a Sunday mass at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ulaanbaatar. They are wearing golden gowns and singing into microphones
The pope will meet Mongolia’s Catholic devoted, have fun mass and have interaction in inter-religious dialogue [File: Joseph Campbell/Reuters]

In April, with out Vatican approval, Beijing appointed a brand new bishop for Shanghai, the nation’s greatest diocese.

The hope is that Mongolia, which has good relationships with each Moscow and Beijing, could possibly create a gap for dialogue between Beijing and the Catholic Church.

For Mongolia, the pontiff’s go to issues as a result of it alerts Ulaanbaatar’s rise as an middleman between powers who don’t at all times get alongside, defined Amar Adiya, the writer of Mongolia Weekly publication.

“It additionally boosts Mongolia’s credentials as a religiously tolerant democracy in distinction to its neighbours,” he stated.

The journey additionally briefly places Mongolia on the world stage, stated Adiya.

“The massive image is that Mongolia has come a good distance from the thirteenth century when its rulers demanded a pope’s submission,” he stated, referring to a letter despatched by Guyuk Khan in 1246 to the Vatican with the insistence that Pope Harmless IV give up to Mongol authority.

“This go to displays Mongolia’s evolution right into a accomplice throughout cultures,” stated Adiya.

Jack Weatherford, a historian and creator of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Fashionable World, notes that the message bearer between Guyuk Khan and Pope Harmless IV was the Franciscan monk John of Plano Carpini.

A view of Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral looking towards the ceiling. The congregation is standing in pews.
Worshippers attend a Sunday mass at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ulaanbaatar [File: Joseph Campbell/Reuters]

Different Franciscans adopted in an effort to attach Mongolians and Europeans.

“It appears becoming that now, practically eight centuries later, the primary pope to go to Mongolia can be the primary to bear the identify of Francis,” Weatherford stated.

Key connection

Francis’s go to to Mongolia correlates along with his previous journey routine of in search of out nations the place he can train each political and non secular muscle.

In April, he was in Hungary the place he met Ukrainian refugees and the Russian Orthodox Church chief. In January, Francis visited the battle zones – the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan – the place he travelled on a ‘pilgrimage of peace’. He has additionally toured nations together with Kazakhstan, Iraq and southern Africa lately.

The papal go to to Mongolia comes because the world watches China and Russia enhance cooperation and attempt to pull different nations into their orbit. Some say Ulaanbaatar could also be a chance for the Vatican to sneak in by means of the again door, because it have been.

“Mongolia emerges as a possible conduit by means of which the Catholic Church may foster connections with each China and Russia,” stated Zolbayar Enkhbaatar, co-founder of Lemon Press, a monetary media firm in Mongolia. “Mongolia is a strategically necessary vacation spot for the Catholic Church.”

Mongolia does have some expertise in worldwide diplomacy. In recent times, the nation has developed the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue which has introduced collectively nations together with Japan and North Korea to debate regional points.

From a non secular perspective, the pope will likely be talking to a nation that, for probably the most half, follows Tibetan Buddhism combined with a local tradition of shamanism. Based on the USA state division, about 40 p.c of Mongolians are usually not non secular, however amongst those that expressed a non secular identification, 87 p.c declared themselves Buddhist and simply two p.c Christian.

The Pope at St Peter's Square. He is giving a blessing and reciting a prayer from the window of his studio to those gathered in the square.
Mongolians hope Pope Francis’s go to will function a celebration of their nation’s non secular tolerance [File: Andrew Medichini/AP Photo]

Traditionally, the Mongols have been in touch with Christians for the reason that seventh century, when Nestorian Christians arrived on the fringes of Mongolian lands. Through the time of the Mongol Empire, within the 1200s, a number of Christian missionaries have been dispatched from Europe to try to convert the Mongol khans.

Mongolia didn’t develop into a Christian nation, nevertheless it has lengthy been keen to study from different cultures and religions.

“I hope that the pope’s go to will likely be a celebration of non secular tolerance and openness,” stated Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, the chair of Mongolia’s Civic Unity Social gathering, and a former minister of sport, tradition and tourism.

She referred to as the journey historic and expects that Francis will see Mongolia as a peace-loving nation.

“It doesn’t matter how many individuals are Catholic in our predominantly Buddhist nation. It issues that your complete inhabitants of Mongolia embraces non secular variety and loves peace and freedom,” she stated.

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