Pope Francis will make his 43rd apostolic trip to Mongolia from August 31 to September 4, the Holy See Press Office reported on June 3. But what exactly is he going to do there?
“By accepting the invitation of the President of Mongolia and the country’s ecclesiastical authorities, Pope Francis will make an apostolic trip to Mongolia from August 31 to September 4 this year,” the director of the Press Office announced on June 3, 2023. of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni. It will be the 43rd apostolic journey of the Argentine pontiff and the first trip of a pope to this country which celebrated in 2022 the 30th anniversary of the Catholic presence there.
Mongolia has a small Catholic community of about 1,400 baptized people in a country of Buddhist culture, with about three million inhabitants over an area of 1.5 million km2, three times the size of France. Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar who became the youngest member of the Sacred College on August 27, 2022, explained to IMedia in 2022 that his cardinalate highlighted “an experience marked by the fact of being a minority, but in a society that has developed a great capacity for dialogue”. Cardinal Marengo, who had been received a few days earlier by the Pope with an interreligious delegation, underlined that “Mongolia is a country which has been able, in its history, to promote peace and harmony between populations of different origins”. .
Return of the missionaries in 1992
After the extinction of Nestorian Christianity, which had spread in Central Asia in the first millennium, it was only in 1992, at the beginning of the democratic opening of the country, that the first Catholic missionaries arrived, in a religious context dominated by Buddhism. Tibetan. The emergence of this Church had greatly interested John Paul II, who wanted to go there for the consecration of the cathedral of Ulaanbaatar in 2003, but this trip project could never materialize because of the state of health of the Polish pontiff.
This trip by Pope Francis should also be part of a broader geopolitics, in the continuity of his September 2022 visit to Kazakhstan, but also of his numerous visits to countries close to China (South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Burma, Thailand…).
Mongolia is indeed a buffer country between Russia and China, and it is also one of the few countries in the world to maintain close relations with both the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. It was in fact during the time of the Chiang Kai-shek regime, in 1945, that the independence of Mongolia was formally recognized by the Republic of China, an achievement that Mao, who came to power in Beijing in 1949, did not did not question. Mongolia could therefore provide contact spaces on the Taiwanese file as well as inter-Korean tensions: the President of Mongolia, Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh, relaunched in 2022 an invitation to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to make an official visit to Ulaanbaatar, after welcoming the South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs there.
First visit of a pope
This 43rd apostolic journey of Pope Francis will take place a little more than three weeks after his return from JMJ in Lisbon, which will give rise to his second apostolic journey to Portugal, six years after his 2017 visit dedicated to the centenary of the Fatima apparitions.
Mongolia will be the seventh country to receive the first visit of a pope under the current pontificate, after Burma in 2017, the United Arab Emirates and North Macedonia in 2019, Iraq in 2021, Bahrain in 2022 and Sudan. of the South in 2023. The program and further details will be communicated in the coming weeks, clarified the director of the Holy See Press Office.