Rome Newsroom, Jun 3, 2023 / 05:30 am (CNA).
The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis will visit Mongolia, the world’s most sparsely populated sovereign country.
The pope is set to travel to Mongolia from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4. The trip will make Pope Francis the first pope to visit the Asian country that shares a 2,880-mile border with China, its most significant economic partner.
Mongolia has a population of about 1,300 Catholics in a country of more than 3 million people.
The first modern mission to Mongolia was in 1922 and was entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But under a communist government, religious expression was soon thereafter suppressed, until 1992. Mongolia’s first native priest was ordained in 2016.
Last year, Pope Francis named an Italian who had served as a missionary in Mongolia for nearly 20 years as the world’s youngest cardinal. Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, 48, is the apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which serves the entire country.
Roughly the size of Alaska, Mongolia has five people per square mile. About 30% of its population is nomadic or semi-nomadic. Bordering Russia to the north and China to the south, Mongolia is also the second-largest landlocked country in the world with the vast Gobi Desert covering one-third of its territory.
Pope Francis will also travel to Lisbon, Portugal, for World Youth Day this August with a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
The pope is also expected to travel to Marseille to preside over a Mass on Sept. 23 as part of a meeting of Mediterranean bishops in the port city in southern France.
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