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"The Gospel is worth spending one's life for". The Pope in Mongolia


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Ramiro Pellitero

Professor at School of Theology

Pope Francis is making an apostolic journey to Mongolia from August 31 to September 4. In his audience on Wednesday, September 6, upon his return, Francis asked, "Why does the Pope go so far to visit a small flock of faithful?" (in fact, there are about 1500 faithful Catholics). 

Two days earlier, on the return flight, he said he was happy at least for this reason: "For me, the trip was to meet this people, to enter into dialogue with this people, to receive the culture of this people and to accompany the Church on its journey with great respect for the culture of this people".

The first missionaries arrived in Mongolia in the 13th century and stayed for a century. A second stage began in the middle of the 19th century, when the first Catholic jurisdiction was established; but it soon ended with the establishment of the communist regime. 

The third and final began again in 1991: John Paul II was unable to visit the country and in 2011 Benedict XVI received the President of Mongolia in audience. In addition, the Pope marked the 860th anniversary of the birth of Genghis Khan. 

In the audience on the same Wednesday, Francis explained in reference to his trip that "it is there, far from the spotlight, that we often find the signs of the presence of God, who looks not at appearances but at the heart" (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). In fact, he continued, he had the grace of finding in Mongolia "a humble but happy Church, which is in the heart of God". 

The inculturation of the Gospel was carried out in the wake of service and charity in that land of Buddhist tradition. And also, in fact, at the end of his pastoral visit the Pope inaugurated the House of Mercy, a place open to all where the missionaries welcome the people who come. 

Waiting and walking together

The visit began on Saturday, September 2, at the meeting with the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps (cfr. speech in the Government Palace of Ulaanbaatar, 2-IX-2023). After evoking the beginning of relations between Mongolia and Innocent IV (1246), of which Francis brought an authentic copy, he referred to the wisdom of this people represented by the Ger, the traditional house, open to the immense spaces of the countryside and the desert, and their tradition of respect for life and the earth. 

Here the Pope noted: "What for us Christians is creation, that is, the fruit of God's benevolent design, you help us to recognize and promote with delicacy and attention, contrasting the effects of human devastation with a culture of care and foresight, which is reflected in policies of ecology manager". In addition, Mongolia is committed to modern progress and democracy, human rights (including freedom of thought and religion) and a peace free of nuclear threats and capital punishment. 

"In the contemplation of the vast horizons, sparsely populated by human beings," the successor of Peter pondered, "a propensity to the spiritual aspect has been honed in your people, which is accessed by giving value to silence and interiority." This is an antidote to the "danger represented by today's consumerist spirit, which, in addition to creating many injustices, leads to an individualism that forgets others and the good traditions received". 

And he added: "Religions, on the contrary, when they are inspired by their original spiritual heritage and are not corrupted by sectarian deviations, are to all intents and purposes reliable supports for the construction of healthy and prosperous societies, in which believers spare no effort to ensure that civil coexistence and political projects are always at the service of the common good, also representing a brake on the dangerous decay of corruption". 

In fact, Mongolia's current agreements with the Holy See are along the lines of the integral human development , Education, health, attendance, research and cultural promotion. And they "bear witness to the humble spirit, the fraternal and supportive spirit of the Gospel of Jesus, the only path that Catholics are called to walk on the pathway that they share with all peoples." 

Thus began the proposal corresponding to the motto chosen for this trip: "Waiting together"; Catholics walking together with other citizens, under the magnanimity and stability of the Mongolian sky.


On the same Saturday, the 2nd, the meeting took place with the bishops, priests, missionaries, consecrated men and women and pastoral agents (cfr. speech in the Cathedral of Ulaanbaatar, 2-IX-2023).

Peter's successor paraphrased the words of Psalm 34 looking at those present, "Taste and see how good the Lord is" (v. 9): "'Spending one's life for the Gospel': this is a beautiful definition of the Christian's missionary vocation, and in particular of the way Christians live that vocation here."

And why spend one's life for the Gospel, Francis asked, and answered: "Because we have tasted the God who became visible, tangible, perceptible in Jesus (cf. Ps 34). Yes, He is the good news destined for all peoples, the advertisement that the Church cannot fail to bring, incarnating it in life and 'whispering' it to the heart of every individual and every culture".

It is often a slow process," he explained, "by means of which the language of God - from the contemplation of the face of the Lord and meeting with Him in the Word and in the Eucharist and in the needy - is light that transfigures the face and makes it in turn resplendent. 

The Pope encouraged them to follow and renew this gaze, and to walk in the joy of the Gospel, which springs from adoration. Adoration that we have lost in this age of pragmatism. But the face of Jesus is our treasure (cf. Mt 13:44), the pearl of great price for which it is worth spending everything (cf. Mt 13:45-46).

Moreover, Jesus sent his own to "bear witness with their lives to the newness of the relationship with his Father, so that he might be 'our Father' (cf. Jn 20:17), thus activating a concrete fraternity with every people". 

At this point Francis paused to observe that "the Church has no political diary to bring forward, but knows only the humble strength of God's grace and of a Word of mercy and truth, capable of promote the good of all". 

This is the purpose of the sacramental structure of the Church and also of her ministers, specifically the bishops. They do not govern with spiritual political criteria, but seek unity on the basis of faith (fidelity) and love of Christ, with prayer, simplicity and sobriety, and with closeness and mercy towards people. In this way, ecclesial communion is already advertisement of faith and contributes to the inculturation of faith and to maintaining hope in the midst of life's difficulties. 

"For this reason," the Pope concluded, "the Church presents herself to the world as a voice in solidarity with all the poor and the needy, she is not silent in the face of injustice and with meekness she commits herself to promote the dignity of every human being" . Hence the need to go forward, without depending on successes or statistics, without tiring of evangelizing, with prayer and fidelity, with creativity and joy. 

A heritage of wisdom

The following day, Sunday 3, an ecumenical and interreligious meeting was held at the Hun Theater in the capital (cfr.speech 3-IX-2023).

Francis praised the harmony existing in the culture of Mongolia, which is widely spread, immense places between heaven and earth, capable of assimilating different creeds and cultural perspectives; for "the way in which we achieve harmony with the other pilgrims on earth and the way we manage to transmit harmony, where we live, is the measure of the social value of our religiosity". A harmony that is almost synonymous with beauty and wisdom. 

That wisdom shines in Asia and specifically in Mongolia: a "great 'heritage of wisdom' that the religions that spread here have contributed to create, and that I would like to invite everyone to rediscover and value". 

From this heritage, the Pope listed ten aspects that are very necessary in today's status : a good relationship with tradition; respect for elders and ancestors; care for the environment; the value of silence and the interior life; a healthy sense of frugality; the value of hospitality; the ability to resist attachment to things; solidarity; an appreciation for simplicity; and a certain existential pragmatism, which tends to seek tenaciously the good of the individual and the community. 

The Pope confirmed to them that the Catholic Church wishes to walk along this line of "dialogue on a triple level": ecumenical dialogue, interreligious dialogue and cultural dialogue. A dialogue based on the incarnation of the Son of God. A dialogue that is not contrary to advertisement and that does not eliminate differences, but "financial aid tounderstand them, preserve them in their originality and make them capable of confronting each other in pursuit of a frank and reciprocal enrichment", as we walk with hope between heaven and earth. As the philosopher said, "each one was great according to the object of his hope: one was great in the hope of the possible; another in the hope of eternal things; but the greatest of all was he who hoped for the impossible" (S. A. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, Buenos Aires, 1958, 12). 

Nomads, pilgrims of God 

Later, in the Mass celebrated in the Steppe Arena (cf. Homily of Sunday, 3-IX-2023), Francis returned to the road as an image of the Christian life: "theroad of love" that we travel with the living water of the Holy Spirit, who quenches the thirst of our soul (cf. Jn 4:10). 

Like Abraham, we believers are"nomads of God, pilgrims in search of happiness, wanderers thirsting for love. We must "allow ourselves to be loved by God in order to make our lives an offering of love. For only love truly quenches our thirst. Let us not forget: only love truly quenches our thirst". Therefore, Francis points out, our thirst is not quenched by success, power or worldly mentality. In fact, Jesus tells us that to follow him we must embrace the cross. 

Therefore, "when you lose your life, when you offer it by serving with generosity, when you risk it by committing it to love, when you make it a free gift for others, then it returns to you abundantly, it pours into you a joy that does not pass away, a peace in your heart, an inner strength that sustains you". The Bishop of Rome insisted: "Only love quenches the thirst of our heart, only love heals our wounds, only love gives us true joy. And this is the path that Jesus has taught us and has opened for us".

A house with four columns 

On his last day in Ulaanbaatar, the Pope met with charity workers and inaugurated the House of Mercy (cfr. speech, 4-IX-2023). There he reaffirmed, as in other places throughout these ten years of his pontificate, what he often calls "the great protocol", the scene of Jesus as shepherd-judge at the final judgment (cf. Mt 5:35): "The charitable dimension is the foundation of the Church's identity". 

He stressed that in Mongolia too, as was the case with the Church from the beginning, the Church rests on "four pillars: communion, liturgy, service, witness" (cf. Acts 2:42): in its smallness, "it lives by fraternal communion, prayer, selfless service to suffering humanity and the witness of its own faith". This has been done here since the first missionaries arrived thirty years ago: they gave great value to charity. And it continues to be done as a concrete financial aid that civil society recognizes, appreciates and thanks. 

The Pope also expressed his gratitude while inaugurating the House of Mercy in Ulaanbaatar, as an expression of the service of the Apostolic Prefecture-as the name of the Church itself-that is present in Mongolia. Everyone is invited to this house to collaborate in the volunteer activities that makes its free work possible. Although it needs a certain professionalism in those who maintain and organize it, the main motive for working, especially for the most needy, must be love. 

For this reason, the Pope wanted to conclude by recalling a well-known episode in the life of Teresa of Calcutta. A journalist, when he saw her bending over the smelly wound of a sick person, told her: "What you do is beautiful, but personally I would not do it for a million dollars. And she replied: "I wouldn't do it for a million dollars either; I do it for the love of God!Francis asked that this style of gratuity be the added value of the House of Mercy.