Ulaanbataar (Mongolia). From 31 August to 4 September 2023, the 43rd apostolic journey of Pope Francis to Mongolia took place, with the motto “Hope Together”.
“The idea of visiting Mongolia,” stated the Holy Father in the press conference on the return flight, “came with the small Catholic community in mind. I make these trips to visit Catholic communities and also to enter into dialogue with the history and culture of peoples, with the mystic [the spirit] of a people.”
This journey was therefore of great importance for Catholics, including the Salesian Family present in this land, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, Salesians of Don Bosco, Salesian Cooperators – who awaited the Pope with joy and trepidation and were involved in the preparations, together with other religious of the Apostolic Prefecture. In particular, Sister Hanako Kojima, FMA, who prepared the meals for the Pope and the coadjutor, Mr. Andrew Le Phuong Tran, SDB, who oversaw the logistics (cf. InfoANS).
The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians of the Ulaanbaatar Community participated in the various events in some of which the children of the schools directed by the FMA were protagonists. Sister Cecilia Choi, Animator of the FMA Community, was present at the airport to welcome the Holy Father together with some missionaries. She also participated in the ecumenical and interreligious meeting between Pope Francis and various religious leaders in Mongolia, which took place in the Hun Theatre.
Sister Aleth Evangelista, missionary in Mongolia, shares the emotions and reflections linked to this great event:
“The most frequent question asked regarding Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Mongolia is, ‘Why did the Pope choose to come to a small country with only 1.400 catholics?’.
We usually see the Holy Father among thousands of people, as we saw from the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. However, it is an ‘outgoing Church’, which reaches the peripheries, and he himself is a radical witness to it, recognizing Mongolia as a small country with a great and rich culture, traditions, and resources.
What a great joy for us missionaries in Mongolia when it was announced that Pope Francis would visit our land. Since then, our Community has prayed every day without ceasing as spiritual preparation for this epochal meeting. As a Church, the statue of our heavenly Mother Mary visited the different parishes and people prayed for her intercession, especially for the Pope and his visit. The Lord hears the cry of the poor!
Long live the Pope! Our hearts shouted with joy when the Pope arrived at the airport, welcomed by the people together with the missionaries. The welcome continued when the children of the various communities of the Catholic Church expressed their happiness at the presence of the Holy Father with dance and music. Four days passed very quickly, but the experience will remain in our hearts forever.
In the Discourse addressed to consecrated men and women and missionaries, His Holiness reminded us of these beautiful words: ‘Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!; Spend your life for the Gospel; God loves smallness and loves to accomplish great things through it, as Mary herself testifies. Continue like this, constant in prayer; continue to be creative in charity; continue to be steadfast in communion; joyful and gentle in everything and with everyone.’ From these words, we can perceive his great desire to be close to each of us. What a great honor to approach him and be blessed by his fatherly presence. It was truly a grace-filled time and an encounter with God.
Taste and see…. It is important to taste Mongolia’s unique food and appreciate the country’s profound vastness, beauty, culture, and history. As missionaries, we are called to taste and see the Mongolian reality by entering into people’s lives. We are challenged by the work of evangelization, yet we take small steps to ‘taste and see’ life with the people through our simple smiles, offering friendship and responding to their needs in different ways. The goodness of the Lord is truly felt by this blessed people. Even for non-Catholics, goodness and kindness are innate in them through their hospitality and generosity.
Spending one’s life for the Gospel where explicit religious proclamation is not possible, evangelical values such as generosity, hope, courage, love, and the ability to discern good from evil can always be proposed to people, not so much by preaching, but with the testimony of our life.
In his Messages, Pope Francis repeatedly reminded that Mongolia is little in many aspects and nuances of life, but has great resources. We reach and witness the splendor and majesty of God through the little things where we daily try to recognize and engage in. And as he recalled in the homily of the Mass at the Steppe Arena, ‘Love alone quenches our hearts; love alone heals our wounds; love alone gives us true joy. This is the way that Jesus taught us and opened for us.’ He also reminded us that we must immerse ourselves in adoration in order to be effective and credible witnesses of the kingdom of God.
The papal visit was truly a life-changing experience for many, not only those present here in Mongolia, but around the world. Every day we thank him for everything, as he himself concluded his apostolic visit by saying the Mongolian word for thanks: ‘баярлалаа’.
After this direct and personal meeting with the Pope, we are full of HOPE! And let’s hope not just as individuals, but together. We hope together in greater commitment and zeal on our part as missionaries, in a more solid collaboration with the government and other institutions for the common good and for the service of the people, especially the poor, and in the courage to share our faith, as the Pope said, ‘The Christian faith is the answer to the thirst for love.’
As Salesian Sisters, we continue to accompany our Educating Communities, especially children, young people, educators and their families. The little sparks of hope that we see every day will one day become a fire that will inflame people’s hearts to know, love, and serve God”.