In Mongolia, a New Cathedral and Old Roots

Catholic Community Springs "From Nothing"

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ULAN BATOR, Mongolia, SEPT. 2, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The young Church of this Asian country now has its own consecrated cathedral.



On Saturday, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, consecrated the cathedral of Ulan Bator, for a Catholic community that emerged in the post-Communist era only a decade ago.

On hand at the ceremony was Bishop Wenceslaw Padilla, the first apostolic prefect, who was ordained the previous day by the cardinal. Also attending was Archbishop Giovanni Battista Morandini, the papal nuncio in Mongolia.

"Eleven years ago you began your journey, literally from nothing, as a community of God," Cardinal Sepe said during the homily of the solemn Mass.

This did not impede the first three missionaries -- then Father Padilla, Father Robert Gooseens and Father Gilbert Sales -- "from witnessing their faith in Jesus Christ in your midst, people of Mongolia," the cardinal continued.

"From three missionaries to 45; from a few Catholics to over 150, together with many others who wish to convert; from one community of faithful to three; from one Verbite Center of Assistance to the different works and apostolates to which you are presently committed at the service of the people of God in Mongolia."

The historic roots of Christianity in Mongolia go back to the 13th and 14th centuries, when the first missionaries arrived.

In connection with those historical roots, Cardinal Sepe mentioned the great Khan Qubilai, who was particularly interested in Christianity. In fact, he personally requested Pope Clement IV to teach Christianity and science to his people. And Marco Polo served in his court for 17 years.

"This was possible only because the great Mongol khans … showed a type of wisdom that was rare in the 13th century, namely, tolerance and acceptance of all religions," the cardinal said.

He said that this wisdom could have been the principle that guided the authors of the new Mongolian Constitution, given that they introduced the "fundamental right to religion and the freedom of religion."

"And perhaps it was our historical Christian heritage of the past in Mongolia which inspired those responsible for the new democratic Mongolia to establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican," Cardinal Sepe added.

"While you affirm your historical heritage as a people, remember that what sustains us in our efforts to build our Christian community is faith in God, who is loving and compassionate with us, and faith in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us, his flock," he said.

The consecration of the cathedral, dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul, gave the cardinal the opportunity to highlight these "pillars if the Church of God," to whom, despite their weaknesses, "God entrusted the building and edification of his people, of his flock."

"Both represent our humanity and our openness to the grace of God," he added. "While we consecrate this church of God, let us consecrate our human condition and ask God to heal us of our weaknesses."

About 200 faithful make up the Catholic community of Mongolia. Christians in general number 34,000, in a population of 2.7 million inhabitants. Almost 40% of the country professes no religion. Animist cults comprise 31% of the population, Buddhists 22%, Muslims 4.8%.