Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
10 Sep 2013
Nomads, yurts, the vast Gobi Desert and fearless horsemen galloping at high speed across windswept plains is how most people imagine life in Mongolia. What few realise is that Mongolia is the newest and youngest member of the world's Catholic family.
Thanks to the efforts, perseverance, determination and deep faith of Philippines-born missionary priest, Wenceslao Padilla who arrived in the nation's capital city, Ulaanbaatar in 1992, Mongolia now boasts six Catholic churches, 21 priests, 60 religious, three parishes and a growing number of Catholic-Christians.
"What's truly exciting about the young Catholic Church in Mongolia is that the vast majority of the nation's Catholics have come to the faith later in their lives with very few born into Catholic families," says Martin Teulan, National Director of Catholic Mission (Australia).
The Mongolian Catholic Church will be the focus of Catholic Mission's 2013 World Mission 2013 Appeal which begins next month.
The theme of this year's appeal, "I will build my Church" focuses on the Bishop Wenceslao Padilla's incredibly inspiring journey of faith which will be shared by parishes across Australia as well as via mail and online campaigns from now until November," Martin says and explains that when Bishop Wens, as he is affectionately known, first arrived in Mongolia 21 years ago, he used Jesus' words to Saint Peter "Upon this rock, I will build my Church," as his inspiration.
At the time the country had just come out of seven decades of Communist rule. The economy was in dire straits, the majority of the people were illiterate and in the capital city, villages and vast desert plains, the population had no knowledge of Christianity. The people, especially the nation's nomadic herders were also struggling with alcoholism, domestic abuse, minimal government services and extreme poverty.
Bishop Wens remained unfazed and embarked on his mission which since day one, has received the support of Catholic Mission. This support was key to the building of the first Catholic Church in Mongolia in 1995 and also supported the establishment of further churches and the Bishop's mission across the remote nation.
With a population of just under 3 million, 53% of Mongolians follow Tibetan Buddhism with a far smaller number of the nation's Nomadic tribes continuing to practice ancient Shamanistic beliefs.But after almost 70 years of Communist rule where religion of any sort was banned, it came as no surprise in Mongolia's 2010 Census to discover 39% of the population described themelsves as having no religion at all. The remainder which made up only a very small percentage were either Christian, Catholic or followers of the Baha'i faith.
Although Bishop Wens and his fellow priests, religious and missionaries is determinedly building the Catholic Church of Mongolia from the ground up, the history of Catholicism in Mongolia dates back to 7th Century, despite the fact that Western missionaries did not arrive in Mongolia until the 13th century.
Arriving at the height of Mongol Empire which expanded across most of Asia and all of China, the missionaries met with little opposition as the Khans or rules were traditionally extremely tolerant of different religious, and permitted many of their wives to become practicing Christians.
Between the 13th and 14th Centuries, the New Testament and the Psalms were translated into the Mongol tongue. The first Roman Catholic mission was established in Beijing at this time, followed by the installation of the first Bishop of Beijing whose jurisdiction encompassed Mongol occupied China as well as Mongolia itself.
It wasnt until 1840, Mongolia was granted its own Catholic jurisdiction but in 1924, less than a century later, the Mongolian Revolutional People's Party took over the country and as with other Communist regimes, freedom of throught along with freedom of religion - or religion of any sort - were banned.
Strict Soviety style Communism dominated the nation until 1991 when the Government was finally overthrown and democracy returned.
A year later a new Constitution was written restoring freedom of religion and freedom of thought. Which was when the then 43-year-old Philippine-born missionary priest accompanied by two fellow priests arrived in Mongolia to re-establish the Catholic Church.
By 1995 the first Catholic church in Mongolia had been built and in keeping with the distinctive architecture of the country, the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul was designed along the lines of a traditional Mongolian ger or yurt.
Over the next eight years more churches were built and in 2003, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Head of the Vatican Congregration for the Evangelisation of Peoples arrived in Mongolia to install Bishop Wens, the first Bishop of Mongolia. Blessed Pope John Paul II had hoped to attend this historic event and would have been the first Holy Father to visit Mongolia. But suffering from Parkinson's Disease, his health was fast deteriorating and he was advised not to travel.
A year later, Bishop Wens oversaw the printing of a Mongolian Version of the Catholic Bible and aided by aided by fellow priests, missionaries and religious as well as local volunteers, continued his mission which includes running a kindergarten for the city's children, providing English classes, establishing a technical school, running a daily a soup kitchen for the poor as well as two farms to provide produce and a care centre for 120 disabled children.
"One of the biggest problems facing the Catholic Church in Mongolia is that there are no locally born priests or sisters. The country's first two seminarians are currently studying in Korea so the Church relies heavily on local catechists to develop learning materials and ways to incluturate the Gospel into the everyday lives of Mongolians," explains Martin Teulan of Catholic Mission (Australia).
Catholic Mission currently supports the training, resources and work of the catechists as well as the two seminarians studying in Korea and many important community initiatives to help Mongolian families out of poverty and into productive lives.
"Due to the poverty in the country the Mongolian Catholic Church receives no local income and desperately needs our prayers and financial support to continue to build the Church and through it, the Kingdom of God in the remote areas of the country," Martin says.
Catholic Mission's 2013 World Mission Appeal begins on 1 October. To find out more about the Appeal, to obtain parish and school kits and to learn about Bishop Wens and his mission in Mongolia log on to www.catholicmission.org.au/wmm