Pope Arrives in Country With Fewer Than 2K Catholics

Francis is the first pope ever to visit Mongolia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 1, 2023 4:33 AM CDT
Francis Becomes First Pope to Visit Mongolia
Pope Francis picks up a piece of Aaruul or Mongolian curd cheese as he arrives at Ulaanbaatar's International airport Chinggis Khaan, Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis arrived in Mongolia on Friday morning to encourage one of the world's smallest and newest Catholic communities. It's the first time a pope has visited the landlocked Asian country and comes at a time when the Vatican's relations with Mongolia's two powerful neighbors, Russia and China, are once again strained, the AP reports. Francis arrived in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar after an overnight flight passing through Chinese airspace, affording the pontiff a rare opportunity to send a note of greetings to President Xi Jinping. Vatican protocol calls for the pope to send such greetings whenever he flies over a foreign country.

Upon arrival in Mongolia, Francis was met on the tarmac by helmeted honor guards along with the country's foreign minister. His visit will include official meetings with the Mongolian president and prime minister and a speech before Mongolian government, cultural, and business leaders, followed by Francis' first encounter with the bishops, priests, and nuns who form the backbone of a tiny Catholic community of 1,450 that has only been in existence for a generation. While Christianity has been present in the region for hundreds of years, the Catholic Church has only had a sanctioned presence in Mongolia since 1992, after the country shrugged off its Soviet-allied communist government and enshrined religious freedom in its constitution.

Francis has long praised the work of missionaries and has tried to reinvigorate the missionary focus of the church at large by visiting them and encouraging their work. One of his first events in Mongolia is to preside over an encounter with missionaries Saturday afternoon at the capital's St. Peter and Paul cathedral, and he will end his visit by inaugurating a new church-run charity house to tend to Mongolia's poorest. The other main focus of Francis' four-day visit is to highlight Mongolia's long tradition of interfaith coexistence. The Mongol Empire under its famed founder Genghis Khan was known for tolerating people of different faiths among those it conquered, and Francis will likely emphasize that tradition when he presides over an interfaith meeting Sunday.

story continues below

Invited are Mongolian Buddhists, who are the majority in the nation of 3.3 million, as well as Jewish, Muslim, and Shinto representatives and members of Christian churches that have established a presence in Mongolia in the last 30 years, including the Russian Orthodox Church. (More Pope Francis stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.