Pope Francis soars high in Mongolia

Pope Francis soared high in three different ways on the penultimate day of his four-day visit to Mongolia.

Sep 08, 2023

(Vatican Media)

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia: Pope Francis soared high in three different ways on the penultimate day of his four-day visit to Mongolia. He did so, first of all, by celebrating the first public Mass in the history of this majority Buddhist country of 3.4 million people on September 3. For the tiny Catholic community of some 1,500 faithful, that moved them, for a short time, from the periphery of the Catholic world to its centre.

He soared high in a second way by participating in a historic ecumenical and interreligious meeting that morning that brought together, perhaps for the first time ever, representatives of all the religions present in this land of clear blue skies. Pope Francis encouraged these faith leaders “to cultivate hope” by working together for harmony, justice and peace in their homeland and in the wider world.

He soared high finally by setting aside the offense given to him by authorities in Beijing, who had prevented China’s Catholic bishops, priests and faithful from coming to Mongolia for the papal visit. In true Gospel fashion, he turned the other cheek and sent a message of friendship to the Chinese people and to the Catholics in mainland China, a message that has been widely understood as a message to China’s leaders.

Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has constantly looked to the peripheries both in the choice of countries to visit and men to make cardinals. And he has consistently looked to the East where he detects the first signs of a new springtime for the Catholic Church. All three elements came into play in the decision to visit Mongolia.

When Pope Francis arrived at the Steppe Arena in a golf car on the afternoon of Sept 3, the congregation of 2,000 faithful — including not only Catholics from Mongolia but also from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries — erupted with applause and chants of “Viva il Papa.” Francis’ face reflected the joy he felt in his heart as he was driven around the stadium; he waved and blessed people and kissed many babies, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.

In his homily, at the Mass which he celebrated in English with prayers in Mongolian, Chinese and other languages, he told them, “At the heart of Christianity is an amazing and extraordinary message. If you lose your life, if you make it a generous offering in service, if you risk it by choosing to love, if you make it a free gift for others, then it will return to you in abundance, and you will be overwhelmed by endless joy, peace of heart, and inner strength and support; and we need inner peace.”

At the end of the celebration, he thanked all those who had made it possible and then, departing from his script, he called to his side two Chinese bishops from Hong Kong who had concelebrated with him: Cardinal John Tong Hon, the emeritus bishop of that diocese, and Cardinalelect Stephen Chow, SJ, the current bishop of the diocese.

As he held up their hands, he said: “I would like to take this opportunity, in the presence of these two brother bishops, to send a heartfelt greeting to the noble Chinese people. I send my good wishes to them all: always move forward, always advance! And to Chinese Catholics: I ask you to be good Christians and good citizens. To all of you, thank you!”

Earlier that day, Francis was driven into the hill country to a ski-resort in the mountains, 10 miles from the capital city, where in the Hun Theatre, that is formed in the shape of a ger — the traditional nomadic tent dwelling of Mongolia, where he met with 12 religious leaders and representatives of Shintoism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Shamanism, and other Christian denominations.

Each representative of the other religions spoke for five minutes, but Francis was granted 15 minutes. He began by presenting himself to the 200 persons present as “a brother in faith to those who believe in Christ” and as “a brother to all of you in the name of our shared religious quest and our membership in the one human family.”

“The fact that we are meeting together in one place already sends a message: it shows that the religious traditions, for all their distinctiveness and diversity, have impressive potential for the benefit of society as a whole.”

He said that if world leaders were to choose the path of encounter and dialogue with others, “it would be a decisive contribution to ending the conflicts continuing to afflict so many of the world’s peoples”.

He pointed out the shared goal of followers of different religions to promote a reconciled and prosperous humanity, symbolised by harmony, togetherness, and openness.

He said that this should inspire a commitment to justice and peace grounded in humanity’s relationship with the divine.

“In this sense, dear brothers and sisters, we share a great responsibility, especially in this period of history, for we are called to testify to the teachings we profess by the way we act; we must not contradict them and thus become a cause of scandal,” he said.

The Pope emphasised the crucial importance of promoting justice and peace and warned against mixing “of religious beliefs and violence, of holiness and oppression, of religious traditions and sectarianism”.

He assured that the Catholic Church is committed to ecumenical, interreligious, and cultural dialogue, respecting the conscience of others and seeking the greater good of all.

“We can discover in our common humanity, blessed by heaven, the key to our journey on this earth. We share a common origin that confers equal dignity on everyone and a shared path that we can only travel alongside one another, as we dwell under the one sky that surrounds and illumines us,” he said. — Agencies

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