CNA Newsroom, Sep 2, 2023 / 07:23 am (CNA).
While the Catholic population in Mongolia is one of the smallest in the world, “being little is not a problem,” Pope Francis assured the local missionaries, because God can accomplish great things with small numbers.
“God loves littleness, and through it he loves to accomplish great things, as Mary herself bears witness,” Pope Francis said in Ulaanbaatar’s Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul on Sept. 2.
“Brothers and sisters, do not be concerned about small numbers, limited success, or apparent irrelevance. That is not how God works. Let us keep our gaze fixed on Mary, who in her littleness is greater than the heavens.”
As on every papal trip, the pope’s itinerary included an address to the local priests and religious of the country, but in Mongolia this includes only 25 priests (19 religious and six diocesan) and 33 women religious. There’s only one bishop — Giorgio Marengo — who is also, at age 49, the Church’s youngest cardinal.
Joining them in the cathedral were some Catholics who traveled from the Philippines, South Korea, and other Asian countries to see the pope as well as catechists and other members of the Church who are involved in the country’s eight Catholic parishes.
As the pope noted, however, this small group is very active in their vast nation, investing their time in six educational centers and 48 charities, which are what he called a “calling card” of their Christian lives. There were 35 baptisms in the last year, representing a steady increase to the 1,450 Catholics in the country.
In the midst of their demanding pastoral work, the pope urged the Church leaders to take care that with the “wide variety of charitable initiatives, which absorb much of your energy and reflect the merciful face of Christ the Good Samaritan,” they continuously return to the source of their ministry.
He exhorted them to go back often to that “original ‘gaze’ [of Jesus] from which everything began” so that their work doesn’t become an “empty delivery of services, a roster of duties that end up inducing only weariness and frustration.”
He stressed the importance of prayer, inviting them to “remain in contact with the face of Christ, seeking him in the Scriptures and contemplating him in silent adoration before the tabernacle.”
“Our Mongolian brothers and sisters, who have a keen sense of the sacred and — as is typical here in Asia — an ancient and complex religious history, look for your witness and can recognize if it is genuine,” the pope pointed out.
The structure of the 500-seat Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul is reminiscent of the traditional yurt or Ger, a tent-dwelling of the nomadic Mongolian peoples with a circular shape. A total of 36 stained-glass windows were added to the building’s dome in 2005, designed by Brother Mark of the ecumenical Taizé Community.
Before entering the cathedral, in one of the traditional Gers, the pope had a brief meeting with an elderly woman who found a small statue of the Virgin Mary in a pile of garbage. That statue has been restored and is venerated in the cathedral under the title “Heavenly Mother.”
Last year, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Cardinal Marengo consecrated Mongolia to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our “Heavenly Mother.”
During his address the pope mentioned this presence of Mary, saying she is a “sure support” in their “journey as missionary disciples.”
“I was so pleased to discover this,” he said, speaking of how the Virgin Mary “wished to give a tangible sign of her gentle and caring presence by allowing a likeness of herself to be found in a landfill.”
“In a place for refuse, this beautiful statue of the Immaculate Mother appeared. Herself free and undefiled by sin, she wanted to draw so close to us as to descend to the dregs of society, so that from the filth of a rubbish heap the purity of the holy Mother of God could shine forth.”
Witnesses to Christ
Pope Francis was welcomed to the cathedral by Spanish Bishop José Luis Mumbiela Sierra of the Diocese of the Holy Trinity in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the current president of the Central Asian bishops’ conference.
A Missionary of Charity from India, Sister Salvia Mary Vandanakara, also spoke about her 25 years of serving the “poorest of the poor” in Mongolia. She noted the challenges of the poor, including a lack of water, and the difficulties with finding sufficient education for the children.
Father Peter Sanjaajav thanked the Holy Father, affirming how he sees God’s closeness to the people. Sanjaajav is the second native priest of Mongolia to be ordained and became a priest in 2021.
A vocal group presented a choreographed traditional song, as the cardinal, with a proud smile, sang along and did some of the gestures.
A catechist, Rufina Chamingerel, recalled how she was not born Catholic but as a student discovered the Church. At 19, she spent a whole night sharing the story of Jesus — from “birth to resurrection” — with her great grandfather. “To tell the truth,” she said, “I still don’t know how to translate the word community into our language.” She referred to the many missionaries as “living catechetical books” and assured the pope that she is praying for him and asks that he receive all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In his address, the pope noted the history of the Church in Mongolia, both in centuries past and in the three decades since missionaries arrived after the fall of communism.
“Dearest missionaries,” the pope exhorted them, “‘taste and see’ the gift that you are, and the beauty of giving yourselves entirely to Christ who called you to be witnesses of his love here in Mongolia.”
“May you always be close to the people, personally caring for them, learning their language, respecting and loving their culture, not allowing yourselves to be tempted by worldly forms of security, but remaining steadfast in the Gospel through exemplary moral and spiritual lives,” Pope Francis said. “Simplicity and closeness! Never tire of bringing to Jesus the faces and the situations you encounter, the problems and concerns. Devote time to daily prayer, which will enable you to persevere in the work of service and to draw consolation from the ‘God of all consolation’ and thus bring hope to the hearts of all those who suffer.”
Courtney Mares contributed to this report from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
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