ACN News: Thursday 24th of May 2012 – MONGOLIA
Catholics in Mongolia – a growing Church in difficult terrain
By Reinhard Backes
“In July 2012 we are hoping to open three new parishes“, said Father Kuafa Hervé in a recent meeting with representatives of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Aged 34, he is priest of the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. The summer of 2012 it will see the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and this nation of Central Asia. Since that day in 1992 the number of Catholics here has grown, slowly but steadily. At present there are four parishes and a total of around 800 Catholics in the country as a whole, served by 71 missionaries of which there are 49 religious 21 priests and 1 Bishop. This is not many in a nation of 2.7 million inhabitants and a total area of over 1.5 million km².
Buddhism is the dominant faith in Mongolia; though like all other forms of religion it was massively oppressed during the Soviet era. With the collapse of communism things changed, however. Today, for many Mongols, Buddhism is a part of their national identity. Other religions, including Christianity, are perceived as foreign. Catholic priests, like Father Hervé, feel this. For five years now, this Missionary of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) has been braving the extremes of the climate – from -30° C in winter to +30° C in summer.
But despite these extremes, and despite the daytime-night time temperature range of + or - 30°C, he is troubled less by this than by the changing official perception of the Catholic Church in the country. The tone is no longer as friendly as it was just a few years ago. Preaching the faith is today permitted only within Church premises, and young people of 16 and under may only attend catechetical instruction with the written permission of their parents. Priests must not appear in public dressed as such. Father Hervé teaches English, French and music, since the teaching of religion is not permitted in the schools but only inside the churches. Hence, as Father Hervé emphasises, Catholics in Mongolia are now a "beleaguered Church".
The first Catholic missions here began in the early 20th century and continued up to the time of the Soviet persecutions. After the political changes there was a new beginning, and interest in the Catholic faith began to grow. In fact, in 1992 the post-communist, democratically elected government actually invited the Catholic Church into the country, expressly for the sake of her schools and social services. In 2002 the Vatican established the apostolic prefecture of Ulan Bator. At the time there were just 114 Catholics living in Mongolia. One year later the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul was formally consecrated in the capital. Architecturally, the building reflects the shape of a Yurt, the traditional tent of the nomadic peoples of Central Asia
Interest in the Catholic Church remains undimmed in Mongolia, however. ACN regularly supports the pastoral initiatives of the apostolic prefecture of Ulan Bator, most recently helping towards the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle for use in its pastoral work, given the vast distances in Mongolia, the lack of fully tarmacked roads and the difficult driving conditions. As Father Hervé observes, in this country both man and machine need plenty of staying power in order to reach their goal. But then he adds, "Despite all the difficulties, in many respects things are only just starting. We are going out to the people. And referring to Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 19, we want to show them that love is also the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man's sufferings and his needs, including material needs. And she is teaching people the value of a personal relationship with God in the prayer and of forgiveness."
(Father Herve Kuafa and Sister Regina with a group of young catholics from Ulan Bator
with the 4WD funded by ACN)
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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