Pope Francis is in Mongolia, where it’s currently late morning on Saturday, the second day of his apostolic visit. If you are so inclined, can watch the replay of his plane landing in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar via the Vatican News YouTube Channel (the real action doesn’t start until almost five and a half minutes into the video). If you squint, you might spot a few of your favorite Vatican reporters and curial officials, until the pope appears at around 20 minutes in.
Crux’s Elise Ann Allen had an interesting report on the pope’s comments as journalists boarded the plane (which has historically been a source of some of the pontiff’s juicier soundbites). Pope Francis spoke about the difficulty of diplomacy (“Yes, you don’t know how difficult it is. Sometimes you need a sense of humor”) in light of the recent controversy stirred by his comments to a group of Catholic youth gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia, in which he said, “You are heirs of the great Russia, the great Russia of the saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, of Catherine II, that great, enlightened Russian empire, of so much culture, so much humanity.”
Afterwards, Francis was blasted by many commentators and government officials, including Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, who described the pope’s words as “imperialist propaganda.” On the plane, Allen reported that Francis said that the “silence” of Mongolia could be understood by taking in “the music of Borodin, who was able to express what this length and greatness of Mongolia.” Allen noted that he was speaking about “Alexander Borodin, a Romantic Russian composer and nationalist who lived from 1833-1887 and who belonged to a group of progressive Russian composers called ‘The Five,’ or, ‘The Mighty Handful,’ and who were interested in composing modern Russian music.”
Also widely reported was a comment by Francis regarding his remarks about the opposition to his papacy found in the United States. America’s Gerard O’Connell wrote, “The pope said he knew some people were upset by the remarks, but the church must keep moving forward.” He quotes Francis as saying, “They got angry, but let’s move on, move on.”
Also of interest was an article by Vatican News about Czech Salesian Father Jaroslav Vracowsky, who has ministered for seven years in a small parish near Ulaanbaatar. He spoke about how the Church in the country started from nothing in 1992, and the small flock is now approaching 1,500 people in Mongolia, which has a population of 33 million. The article explains:
The parish Fr. Jaroslav works at is in a tiny place called Shuwuu. The three Salesian missionaries that run it are overjoyed to have a real church made of brick and stone in which to celebrate the Lord. Until mid-August, when their new Church of the Holy Family was inaugurated and blessed, liturgical celebrations, catechism and social work, all took place in Mongolian tents called “gers” – the traditional Mongolian dwellings, ideally suited to the nomadic lifestyle of the people, who can quickly assemble, disassemble and transport them according to their needs.
He describes his work as similar to that of a parish priest, fully immersed in a reality in which the faithful “are like first-generation Christians because the Catholic Church [in Mongolia] started in 1992 from zero.”
It’s amazing to think about. My parish, one of over 15 parishes within a ten-mile radius of my house in suburban Maryland, regularly has around 1,200 people attend across five Masses every Sunday, and the other local parishes have similar turnouts. The idea that our mid-sized parish is not much smaller than the number of Catholics in an entire country is astounding.
Stay tuned for the texts of the Pope’s speeches and reports on the pope’s activities in Mongolia. Pray for his visit and for the people of Mongolia.
Image: Vatican News