VATICAN CITY — The head of one of the world’s smallest national Catholic communities, Mongolia with 1,450 members, said Monday that Pope Francis’ visit will show how far he has come since locals saw “these funny strangers praying.”
Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, an Italian who administers the Church in the vast country bordering China and Russia, also said the pope from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1. The visit on the 4th will be a balm for a people who suffered “70 years of harsh communist rule” until the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
“The reaction from both the Catholic community and the local community at large was one of great amazement and joy and something exciting. Little by little it is becoming more evident how important and significant this visit will be, ”he said at a conference.
Francis, who likes to visit places where Catholics are a minority, will spend all of his time in Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of the vast country with fewer Catholics than most parish churches in many places. The smallest of Mongolia’s nine parishes has only 30 members.
Marengo has been a missionary in Mongolia for more than 20 years and reminisced about his early years.
“We set up two gers,” he said, using the Mongolian word for a circular portable tent-like dwelling.
“One for prayer and one for activities with the children…people from the neighborhood started coming in and seeing these funny foreigners who were praying (in Mongolian).”
“They told us ‘we felt there was something special about this ger,’” he said.
Maregno declined to discuss the political significance of the trip, referring reporters to Vatican diplomats.
The country of some 3.3 million people is strategically significant to the Roman Catholic Church because of its proximity to China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the situation for Catholics.
Mongolia, which was part of China until 1921, has good relations with Beijing. Diplomats say it could be used as an intermediary with China.
About 60% of Mongolians identify as religious. Among them, 87.1% are Buddhists, 5.4% Muslims, 4.2% shamanists, 2.2% Christians and 1.1% followers of other religions, according to the US State Department. .
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