Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia). From 1 to 4 September 2023, Pope Francis will be in Mongolia for his 43rd apostolic journey. He will be the first Pontiff to set foot in the “land of the eternal blue sky”. As in all visits, preparations are being made to welcome him in the best possible way and religious communities have been involved.
To her great surprise, Sr. Hanako Teresia Kojima, Daughter of Mary Help of Christians of Mary Help of Christians Community of Ulaanbaatar belonging to the Star of the Sea Province (KOR), was asked to cook for the Holy Father.
Interviewed, Sister Hanako, a missionary in Mongolia for 14 years, joyfully recounts how this beautiful adventure began and how they are preparing to receive the Pope.
When and how did you find out that you were chosen as cook for the Pope? What emotions did you feel?
In the months leading up to the Pope’s visit, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo asked me to cook twice for guests arriving from the Vatican. The day before the second guest left for Rome, the Cardinal said to me, “Are you ready to cook for the Pope?” At that moment, it seemed to me that time had stopped. I thanked him, “Really? Thank you!” My heart was pounding and I couldn’t believe what I was being asked to do.
I thanked God very much and asked for His strength to prepare me well for this moment of extraordinary grace.
What will you cook?
The requested menu is that of a very simple meal (it won’t be Mongolian food), just like the life of Pope Francis. I was really impressed by this simplicity.
Can you describe the significance of Mongolian cuisine and welcoming guests?
Mongolian traditional food is very simple because the raw materials for food that can be produced in this country are very limited (due to climatic conditions). Guests are treated very kindly. The host says several times, “Drink more tea! Eat meat!” And when guests leave, they never go home empty-handed. On the table there are always salads, fruits, candies, chocolates, etc. When a guest arrives, tea with milk is served first. And then we toast with Mongolian vodka, which is called Arikh. Meanwhile, the traditional food of dumplings is cooked and served as soon as they are ready. In the meantime, we talk and sing songs together to spend the visit in fraternity, experienced as a precious moment.
How is waiting for the in Pope these days? What does this visit to Mongolia mean for the people, for the Catholic Church, for the FMA community?
When St. John Paul II was Pope, he was supposed to come to Mongolia in 2003, but the trip was cancelled. The coming of Pope Francis will therefore be the fulfillment of a promise made 20 years ago. You can imagine how happy we are! It is difficult for locals to understand the differences between religions. In this sense, the coming of the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, to this country is an opportunity to understand our Church more deeply. Through the media, people seem to be very interested in the Pope’s visit.
The motto of this visit is “Let us hope together”. Through this visit, our hope is that our current mission and future missionary activities may be a reflection of God’s will.