Pope starts Mongolia visit by praising the country’s religious freedom dating back to Genghis Khan

by Ryan Lee
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Interfaith Harmony

Commencing his historic visit to Mongolia, Pope Francis commenced his journey by commending the nation’s longstanding commitment to religious freedom, tracing back to the era of its founder, Genghis Khan. In a momentous step, the Pope embarked on the first-ever papal voyage to this Asian territory, utilizing the opportunity to advocate for peace and the eradication of the pernicious plague of corruption.

In the distinguished presence of President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh, Pope Francis engaged in discussions within the confines of a traditional Mongolian ger—a circular yurt—erected within the precincts of the state palace. Inscribed within the guest book, his words encapsulated his role as a peace-seeking pilgrim visiting Mongolia, a nation characterized by its amalgamation of youth and antiquity, modernity and tradition.

Pope Francis’ voyage to Mongolia carries a dual purpose: to minister to its modest Catholic population of 1,450 individuals, and to embark on a diplomatic endeavor in a region where the Holy See’s relations have encountered historical challenges, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south.

Though the presence of Christianity in the region spans centuries, the Catholic Church was officially established in Mongolia only in 1992, subsequent to the nation’s renunciation of its communist government aligned with the Soviet Union, and the subsequent enshrinement of religious freedom within its constitutional framework.

The pontiff’s oration lauded Mongolia’s enduring legacy of religious tolerance, underlining its remarkable persistence even throughout the epoch of the expansive Mongol Empire. This great empire extended its dominion as far as Hungary, constituting the largest contiguous land empire in history. Despite its former grandeur, Mongolia stands today as a predominantly Buddhist nation, nestled between Russia and China. Notably, its affiliations with renowned Tibetan lamas, including the Dalai Lama, remain an integral part of its cultural tapestry.

Pope Francis articulated, “The capacity of your ancestors to recognize and harness the inherent virtues of diverse peoples within this expansive realm, and to unite them for mutual progress, remains an exemplar.” He emphasized the contemporary relevance of this model in fostering a harmonious coexistence among nations.

Alluding to a period of relative stability during the 13th century within the Mongol Empire, which facilitated trade and transcontinental travel, Pope Francis echoed the call for a contemporary epoch of fraternity and tranquility. As conflicts continue to besiege our world, he invoked the notion of a renewed “pax mongolica,” rooted in adherence to international laws and the absence of conflicts.

President Khurelsukh concurred, citing the enduring spirit of the “pax mongolica” as a guiding principle for Mongolia’s aspiration to be a harmonious and cooperative global participant. The president emphasized the spirit’s role in nurturing mutual respect among nations, fostering appreciation for diverse values and cultures, thus ensuring the cohabitation of civilizations.

In a symbolic gesture, Pope Francis presented an authenticated copy of a letter penned by Guyuk Khan, the ruler of the Mongol Empire during the 13th century, addressed to Pope Innocent IV. This missive conveyed the emperor’s response to the pope’s entreaties for conversion to Christianity. Guyuk Khan’s reply, while rejecting the conversion, exuded a sense of confidence in his divine mission to conquer and rule.

Furthermore, the Pope lauded Mongolia’s endeavors in environmental conservation. The nation, beset by climatic extremes, is recognized as one of the countries profoundly impacted by climate change. Acknowledging the nation’s efforts to combat these challenges, including its initiative to plant one billion trees, Pope Francis acknowledged Mongolia’s dedication to responsible ecological policies.

Yet, Pope Francis did not shy away from addressing the issue of corruption. He issued a caution against its pernicious influence, citing its origins in utilitarian and unscrupulous mindsets that perpetuate the impoverishment of nations. Moreover, he advocated that religions, given their moral compass, possess the potential to safeguard against the menace of corruption, which undermines the progress of societies.

With Mongolia designating 2023 as an “anti-corruption year,” backed by a comprehensive plan inspired by Transparency International, Pope Francis’ message resonates profoundly, urging concerted efforts towards a more transparent and just society.

As the day progressed, Pope Francis convened with the priests and missionaries dedicated to Mongolia’s small Catholic community at the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in the capital. Amidst a backdrop of historical significance and contemporary challenges, the Pope’s visit resonates as a beacon of hope, advocating for peace, interfaith dialogue, and the shared pursuit of human dignity and welfare.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Interfaith Harmony

What was the main purpose of Pope Francis’ visit to Mongolia?

Pope Francis’ visit to Mongolia aimed to minister to its Catholic community and engage in diplomatic endeavors, fostering peace and interfaith harmony.

How did Pope Francis emphasize Mongolia’s religious legacy?

Pope Francis praised Mongolia’s historical tradition of religious freedom, tracing it back to the era of Genghis Khan and lauding its enduring relevance.

What issues did Pope Francis address during his visit?

Pope Francis advocated for peace, highlighted environmental conservation efforts, and cautioned against corruption, underscoring its detrimental impact on societal progress.

How did Pope Francis connect Mongolia’s history to contemporary challenges?

Pope Francis drew parallels between Mongolia’s historical period of stability and the need for a modern era marked by fraternity, peace, and adherence to international laws.

What significance did the “pax mongolica” hold for both Pope Francis and President Khurelsukh?

Both Pope Francis and President Khurelsukh recognized the historical “pax mongolica” as a guiding principle for Mongolia’s peaceful global engagement and mutual respect among nations.

What message did Pope Francis convey through Guyuk Khan’s letter?

Pope Francis presented a letter written by Guyuk Khan, which showcased the emperor’s confidence in his divine mission, underscoring the complexities of historical interactions.

How did Pope Francis emphasize environmental concerns during his visit?

Pope Francis commended Mongolia’s environmental conservation efforts and its campaign to combat climate change by planting one billion trees across the nation.

How did Pope Francis address the issue of corruption?

Pope Francis cautioned against corruption, attributing it to utilitarian and self-serving mentalities, while asserting that religious values can guard against this menace.

What was the significance of Pope Francis’ interaction with Mongolia’s Catholic community?

Pope Francis met with priests and missionaries tending to Mongolia’s small Catholic community, emphasizing solidarity and shared values amidst diverse challenges.

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