By Justin McLellan
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Mongolia will draw the Catholic Church’s attention to the “joy” and “simplicity” with which Mongolians live their faith as missionary disciples, the cardinal responsible for the country’s 1,450 Catholics said.
“This visit will manifest the attention that the successor of Peter has for every individual, every person who embarks on this journey of faith, reading his or her own life in the light of the Gospel,” Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, said July 18 at the Vatican. The cardinal was in Rome to speak at a conference on the ministry of catechists.
The pope’s desire to visit one of the world’s smallest Catholic communities shows that his “heart burns with love for the universal Church and especially where she lives in a minority context,” he said.
Pope Francis’ trip to Mongolia, scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 4, will be the first time a pope visits the Asian nation sandwiched between Russia and China. The focus of the visit will be encounters with leaders of government and civil society and meetings with local Catholics. There will be an ecumenical and interreligious gathering as well as a Mass and the inauguration of a charity center.
Cardinal Marengo, a member of the Consolata Missionaries and the youngest member of the College of Cardinals at 49 years old, said Mongolia’s Catholic community is important to Pope Francis and the universal Church since it is an example of the missionary discipleship often preached by the pope.
The cardinal delivered a talk titled, “Whispering the Gospel in the Heart of Asia,” at a conference on catechesis, where he described how evangelization in Chrisitan-minority countries requires building close relationships with communities to quietly invite them into the faith, rather than “use political tools to sell your product.”
He recalled how when he arrived in Mongolia more than 20 years ago, the church built two gers — tented portable dwellings typical of Mongolia — for prayer and activities which drew in curious locals to watch the “funny foreigners praying.”
Cardinal Marengo expressed his hope that by meeting the pope, Mongolia’s few Catholics “will feel how wide is the Catholic Church around the world,” which he said is difficult for them to perceive living among so few Catholics.
The cardinal said that the smallest of Mongolia’s nine Catholic communities has as few as 30 people.
Yet he insisted that among Mongolia’s Catholics “the Holy Father is very well known.”
“When you visit the family of a Catholic you always find a picture of the Holy Father in the household or ger,” he said.
Cardinal Marengo said the trip shows just how important “every single faithful” is to Pope Francis, noting that although the pope never served as a missionary, “he’s been a great missionary model for us.”