Mission to Mongolia
“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18)
These words of the Divine Master are exemplified in the energy, passion and heroic work of the Church in Mongolia, whose history dates to the golden era of the Mongol empire in the 13th century. My recent mission to the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky,” as Mongolia is often referenced, touched my heart and spirit. The beauty of the endless windswept steppes, rolling green hills and the spectacular high mountain ranges were only surpassed by the warm-hearted and loving people who inhabit them. In my travels from one mission to another, across the vast expanse of rolling hills, Jesus’ words filled my heart and mind, reminding me of His Church’s role and mission: go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
I remember the day I left for Mongolia. As I walked through Dulles airport all the TV screens were filled with images and headlines about grand jury findings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the actions of Theodore McCarrick. Many people were captivated by the news and shocked by what was being reported. I could feel the tension and uneasiness in people, especially when they looked at a Catholic priest walking by. Though the great majority of priests and religious faithfully serve the people of God, remaining true to their promises, commitments and vows, it is hard for most people not to make a broad leap, even for a moment, to think that all must be guilty. The scandals hurt us all! Even in Mongolia, the far-reaching impact of the scandalizing behavior of some within the Church could be felt.
As headlines and news stories across the world reported the grave immoral behavior of some Catholic clergy and prelates in the U.S. (and Vatican), evoking disgust, horror and disappointment, I was experiencing something different and refreshing in Mongolia – the zeal and dedication of a bishop, surrounded by his priests, religious and lay catechists – modern-day missionaries – who left their families, homes and countries to proclaim the Gospel and serve the people entrusted to their care. In complete contrast to what was being reported, I was reminded of the leap of faith first expressed by the apostles who abandoned all in response to Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. I experienced firsthand the transforming impact of sacrificial love genuinely offered by humble and meek servants of God, whose single motivation is to bring the Good News and the love of a heavenly Father to His beloved children.
I am glad the Lord permitted me to be on mission in Mongolia; it was a beautiful time of renewal.
A Pilgrim Church, Missionary Spirit and Hope
In Ad Gentes, “The Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church,” the Second Vatican Council Fathers attested to the missionary spirit of the Church, saying: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (¶2). Christ is not only the initiator and the perfect example, but also the One who supplies the necessary energy to proceed, communicating the Holy Spirit to His Church in every age. In spreading the faith and in calling all to conversion, we profess to all people that we “have no abiding city” (Heb 13:14) here on earth because we have a “citizenship in heaven” (Phil 3:20).
Diplomatic and religious ties between the Catholic Church and the Mongols were interrupted when the divided Mongol Empire fell in the 14th Century. The presence of the Church was revived in the 17th Century when Catholic missionaries reconnected with the Mongols in what is now the northern part of China. In 1992 the Mongolian government re-established diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
After the fall of Communism in the former USSR and the rest of the Eastern bloc of Europe, the new reformist Mongolian government of Ochirbat (1992-1997) established diplomatic relations with other countries. In June 1990, the first contact was made by the Mongolian government through its ambassador to Yugoslavia, Dr. Khashbat, with the apostolic pro-nuncio in Belgrade, expressing its desire to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See. In September 1991, the Holy See’s representative to Hong Kong, Monsignor Jean Paul Gobel, visited Mongolia. Thereafter, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, formally invited the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) on October 7, 1991 to spearhead the Mongolian Mission. Fathers Wenceslao Padilla, Robert Goessens and Gilbert Sales arrived on March 31, 1992. On April 4, 1992 the Holy See and Mongolia established diplomatic relations and appointed Father Padilla as the Ecclesiastical Superior of the Missio Sui Iuris of Ulaanbaatar on April 19, 1992.
On April 15, 1995, the first Mongolian converts were baptized by Monsignor John Bulaitis. Then a piece of property in the 13th Micro District was bought to construct the Catholic Church Mission – the office of the bishop and center of pastoral life. In August 2002, the Catholic community branched out in the Khan Uul District with St. Mary’s Church. This was followed by Good Shepherd Parish in the 10th Micro District on March 25, 2003. Property was purchased, and the construction of the cathedral and accompanying buildings commenced in 2002 after the Missio Sui Iuris of Ulaanbaatar was elevated to an Apostolic Prefecture on July 8, 2002.
The episcopal ordination of Monsignor Wenceslao Padilla and the consecration of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul occurred on August 29 and 30, 2003. Thereupon the first Church community finally settled. Other parishes were then established: Maria Auxilium Parish in Darkhan (2007), Mother of Mercy Parish in Arvaikheer (2012), St. Sophia in Bayan Khushuu (2013), the Divine Mercy Parish in Erdenet (2017) and the Holy Family Parish in Shuvuu (2017). Two more centers of worship wait for their formal erection as parishes: St. Thomas Aquinas in Sukhbaatar District and the Lord of Mercy Church of Zuun Mod.
The growth of the Church has been gradual yet constant, with more missionaries committed to serve the Catholic Church in Mongolia. The Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM) and Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres (SPC) arrived in 1995 and Missionaries of Charity (MC) arrived in September 1996. Fide Donum priests arrived in February 1997 followed by the Salesian Fathers in February 2001, the Congregation of Jesus Sisters (CJ) in July 2002, the Consolata Fathers and Sisters in 2003, the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco (FMA) in 2007 and the Blessed Sacrament Sisters of Charity (INBO) in 2008. Lay missionaries soon followed.
Most importantly, on August 28, 2016, the very first Khalkh Mongolian priest, Father Joseph Baatariin Enkh, was ordained. Two more Mongolian seminarians are currently having their formation in South Korea. One of these seminarians is scheduled to be ordained deacon in December. From the first baptism in 1995, the number of Catholic faithful has steadily grown to more than 1,300. If they started with 13, that’s an average growth rate of 22 percent!
Building a Culture of Life
Through the Holy Spirit the Gospel penetrates to the heart of the world, for it is He who causes people to discern the signs of the times – signs willed by God – which evangelization reveals and puts to use within history.
— Saint Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, ¶75
Despite such enthusiasm within the local Church in Mongolia, the young Catholic community faces many challenges in cultivating and sustaining a Culture of Life.
Mongolia has a population of slightly over 3.1 million – 2.2% of which is Christian. Since 1985 there have been over 500,000 abortions – 13.3 percent of Mongolia’s population has been lost to the violent murder of its citizens. Mongolia has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 58 percent. In 1975 the total fertility rate (TFR) was 7.50. Today, it is 2.22 and expected to be around 1.6 by 2030.
The anti-life agenda is being pushed in Mongolia mercilessly by powerful international NGO’s and foundations, even with its small population and sinking TFR. The Culture of Death and its powerful and indiscriminate minions are actively at work in Mongolia. Forty-two (42) anti-life organizations have been identified, including: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Marie Stopes International (MSI), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Amnesty International (AI), The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The United Nations World Health Organization (UNWHO), The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRIDC), and many others.
What’s the Motivation?
Mongolia’s resources play a key role in understanding why so many NGOs and anti-life groups are tirelessly working in this beautiful country. It is targeted by these groups because of the vast mineral resources many Western and developed countries require to sustain their industry and way of life. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the U.S. lists these resources in its 2017 World Factbook: oil, coal, copper, molybdenum, tungsten, phosphates, tin, nickel, zinc, fluorspar, gold, silver and iron. Uranium is also mined.
In 1974 under the Nixon administration, the National Security Council of the U.S. promulgated National Security Study Memorandum 200, entitled “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas Interests.” The document outlines the overall strategy of the US government regarding worldwide population control operations. This document continues to be in force and has never been rescinded or amended. Chapter III of the document states its purpose:
“The U.S. economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals, especially from less developed countries. This gives the U.S. enhanced interest in the political, economic, and social stability of the supplying countries. Wherever a lessening of population through reduced birth rates can increase the prospects for such stability, population policy becomes relevant to resource supplies and to the economic interests of the United States.”
Why Did HLI Travel to Mongolia?
There is an ‘ideological colonization’ for which we have to be careful of those trying to destroy the family. Challenged by the redefinition of marriage and openness to life, as families we have to be very wise with fortitude to this colonization which will destroy the family.
— Pope Francis
Among the challenges facing the Church in Mongolia is the need for a counter-approach to the agendas that have negatively influenced the culture and its view of the human person, human sexuality and the family. Because of the ‘ideological colonization’ imposed by Communism and other philosophies, many Mongolians have embraced the anti-life mentality, as attested by low births rates, high abortion numbers and rampant sexual promiscuity, as well as alcoholism. HLI was tasked with assisting the clergy, religious, catechists and lay leaders with: 1) a better understanding of Church teaching on the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of life and role of the family, 2) information on the various anti-life groups working in Mongolia, and 3) pastoral application – i.e., how to apply Church teaching to the situations confronting the faithful and their society.
A key document used throughout our discussions was Humanae Vitae. We emphasized its teaching and the strength of Blessed Paul VI to defend the sacred institution of marriage and the gift of human life. He was courageously warning the flock entrusted to his care about the evils trying to destroy the family and the Culture of Life. He understood the difficulties that families experience and called upon the pastors of the Church to assist families and defend them against the false ideologies threatening them.
Our ten-day mission in Mongolia barely touched the surface of the issues confronting Life and Family in this country, but it opened the door for further conversation and opportunity. Bishop Padilla has already extended an invitation for a follow-up program, which is being discussed. As a Catholic educational apostolate, HLI joyfully welcomes the opportunity to support the Church in her proclamation of the Gospel of Life.
Though we face many challenges today, exacerbated by the grave misbehaviors of some members of the Church, we must never be ashamed or fearful of Church teaching and her mission to evangelize as witnessed in Mongolia. The spirit and love of the missionaries and the response of the people to the Gospel was rejuvenating and encouraging – a sign of hope. It is only in living in this light and truth that we will find peace, liberation and prosperity.