Pope Francis in Mongolia

Pope Francis Unites with Religious Leaders in Mongolia to Advocate for Peaceful Coexistence

During the first papal visit to Mongolia, Pope Francis held an interfaith gathering with representatives from 11 diverse faiths as he sent a message promoting peace, inclusivity and unity as well as a heartfelt greeting to what he called China’s “noble” people.

Joined by Catholic bishops and cardinals from Hong Kong, Thailand and Korea, Francis gave a speech on September 3 in a yurt-shaped theater in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar.

The pontiff, who concluded his five-day visit to Mongolia on September 4, encouraged religious groups to unite in pursuit of the greater good. His audience included Buddhists monks, clergy from local evangelical groups and Adventist and Latter-Day Saints traditions, leaders from Mongolia’s Shamanic and Bahai faiths as well as its Hindu, Muslim and Jewish community.

“Brothers and sisters, the social significance of our religious traditions can be gauged by the extent to which we are capable of living in harmony with other pilgrims on this earth and can foster that harmony in the places where we live,” the pope said.

A largely Buddhist country located between China and Russia, Mongolia is home to just 1,450 Catholics, according to Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, who has performed more than two decades of missionary work in Mongolia. In 2022, Francis made Marengo, aged 49 years at the time, the Vatican’s youngest cardinal.

Among the attendees were Catholics from China who discreetly traveled to Mongolia to witness the papal visit. No pope has ever ventured into China, and just before Francis’s Mongolia visit, Chinese authorities issued a ban preventing local bishops from journeying to meet the pope.

The Vatican’s relations with China have been strained for several years over Beijing’s overshadowing presence and persecution of religious minorities. Francis approved the appointment of a new bishop for Shanghai in July, effectively yielding to Beijing’s unilateral decision made in April.

Yet the pope conveyed a constructive message to both Chinese authorities and Catholics. After mass, as he clasped the hands of Cardinal John Tong, the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, and the Chinese territory’s current bishop, Stephen Chow, Francis seized the moment to extend a heartfelt salutation to the people of China.

“I want to take advantage of their presence to send a warm greeting to the noble Chinese people,” Francis said. “To all the people I wish the best and to always go forward, always progress.”