Mongolia's First Retreat in Decades Attracts Its Share of Non-Christians

Country's Only Parish Shares the Faith

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ULAN BATOR, Mongolia, APRIL 16, 2003 (ZENIT.org-Fides).- Mongolia's sole Catholic parish, re-established after the fall of Soviet communist rule, has brought back a staple of the spiritual life: a retreat.



The retreat was held last month in Handgait, roughly 125 kilometers (75 miles) south of the capital, Ulan Bator. It was led by Father Pierre Kaseumana, an African missionary of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The retreat had a strong ecumenical and evangelizing twist: Only eight of the 58 people taking part were baptized Christians. Most were people who attend Mass but are not yet baptized. They are parents and friends of Catholics or people who have received material aid from the Church in Mongolia.

The Church in Mongolia currently has 136 baptized Catholics. "We have now come to the time when many of our youth have become adults and they have formed a new group," Father Kaseumana said.

Monsignor Wenceslaw Padilla, apostolic prefect of Ulan Bator and also a missionary of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, opened the retreat. He explained the gestures and rites used during a Mass.

It "is not easy for Mongolians to confess their Catholic faith openly in a country where the majority of people are either atheists or Buddhists," explained Father Kaseumana. "Often, Christians are marginalized in their family. ... They prefer to profess their faith in private."

"It is easier with children who with their simplicity and spontaneity openly say they are Christians," the religious acknowledged.

He told UCA News: "Although Mongolians know little about the Christian faith and cannot see the difference between the different confessions, they generally respect the religion of others."

Mongolia, an Alaska-size republic situated between Russia and China, has some 2.6 million inhabitants. About 96% are Buddhist, and most of the rest Muslim.

Mongolia and the Vatican established diplomatic relations in 1997.