Ulaanbaatar (AsiaNews) – For the Catholic Church in Mongolia, the Year of Mercy is a new experience. Two missionaries are there to bear witness to it.
Fr Giorgio Marengo, a Consolata missionary who has lived in Arvaikheer since 2003, notes that the concept of mercy, the "maternal womb" of God the Father, "is something that shakes up” the lives of Mongolians. “Almost all those who have embraced Christianity have done so because of the possibility of forgiveness and the idea that sin does not mark one forever. Now, Mongolia will too experience the Jubilee. "
Fr Ernesto Viscardi, his vicar, agrees. "The [opening] ceremony [in Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral] took place on 8 December. It was very simple but with lots of people,” he said. “The Apostolic Prefect, Mgr Wenceslao Padilla, led representatives from Mongolia’s six parishes in a small procession that ended with the opening of the door. The latter underwent partial restoration to give it a new symbolism with the themes of the Holy Year."
For the Church of Mongolia, "this is a whole new experience,” he explained. “Christians from various parishes are planning pilgrimages to the cathedral in order to obtain the indulgence. During the liturgical year, we plan to focus a lot on the issue of mercy. We will try to explain to our Christians what a Jubilee is, the meaning of God's forgiveness, and his presence in the Scriptures."
To understand things better, the Bull of indiction Misericordiae Vultus was translated into Mongolian.
If all goes well, "we might even make a pilgrimage to Rome in the second half of June, to go through the Holy Door of St Peter,” Fr Viscardi said. “Local society, which is largely influenced by Buddhism, is familiar with Mercy, but we have to explain the Christian perspective to them.”
More broadly, “I think it is a good sign for this [Jubilee] year that a law was passed a few weeks ago to abolish the death penalty in the country,” he explained. “I am pretty sure that those who proposed the bill and voted for it did not really have the Holy Year in mind, but it is a good sign nonetheless."
For Fr Giorgio, who lives 430 km from Ulaanbaatar, things went a bit differently. "We do not have a church as such here. We use a ger*,” he said. “Our community participated in the Mass on the Immaculate with a particular intention for the beginning of the Holy Year. This Sunday, after Mass, we will hold a moment of reflection specifically on the meaning of the Jubilee."
The concept of mercy "has found an important echo in Mongolia,” he explained. “The tender mercy of God the Father has great resonance. The experience of the small number of local Catholics is unique because this concept helped their journey towards Catholicism. A merciful God is such a wonder, and the concept of forgiveness as new life is revolutionary. Mongolians like the idea that one can always start over. It is something that shakes up their lives."
From a practical standpoint, the local Church has clear ideas. "We want to develop a programme to fight alcohol dependence, which is a major problem in this country. Two converts want to set up a support group, and they have our backing. This is something that goes well with the Holy Year, because every form of addiction is a form of slavery.”
“Alcoholism is the most common social problem. However, we want to raise awareness in everyone, not only alcoholics. Everyone has addictions, physical or spiritual. Our prayers are that the Year of Mercy may help us free ourselves from this bondage."
The Catholic Church in Mongolia was established 23 years ago, in 1992, after the arrival of a small group of missionaries that belonged to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, including the future prefect, Mgr Wenceslao Padilla.
Since then, about 1,100 Mongolians have converted. Six parishes were set up where none existed, and the community has created health and education facilities, much appreciated by locals.
* Also known as a yurt, the ger is a portable, round tent covered with skins or felt used as a dwelling by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.