AArriving at the capital’s airport, Ulan Bator, at 10:00 am (03:00 am in Lisbon), Francisco, who arrived in a wheelchair, was received by the Mongolian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Battsetseg Batmunkh, and by a young woman who offered him dry yogurt, which is customary typical of the country.
Francis and Battsetseg Batmunkh then met for a few minutes in an airport lounge, before the 86-year-old pope retired to the residence of the Cardinal of Mongolia, Italian Giorgio Marengo, to rest from his nine-and-a-half-hour flight.
The official welcoming ceremony for the pope will take place on Saturday morning, when Francis will also meet Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh and Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene.
In the afternoon, the pope will meet with about 80 bishops, priests and consecrated missionaries across Mongolia, where there are only nine parishes, four of them in the capital, where 40% of the population of one of the most depopulated countries in the world is concentrated. .
On Sunday, Francis will celebrate mass in an ice hockey arena for the 1,500 faithful of Mongolia, 90% of whom live in the capital, but who are expected to be joined by another thousand faithful from neighboring countries, including Russia and China. .
The pope’s visit to Mongolia comes at a time when the Vatican’s relations with its two powerful neighbors, Russia and China, are strained again.
Although Christianity has been present in the region for hundreds of years, the Catholic Church was only accepted in Mongolia in 1992, after the country abandoned an alliance with the Soviet Union and enshrined religious freedom in the Constitution.
Another purpose of Francis’ visit is to highlight Mongolia’s long tradition of interfaith coexistence. The Mongol Empire, under founder Genghis Khan, was known for tolerating people of different religions among conquered peoples.
The pope will preside over an event on Sunday with representatives of Buddhists (the majority in the nation of 3.3 million people), Jews, Muslims, Shinto and Christian churches that have established a presence in Mongolia over the last 30 years, including the Russian Orthodox Church.
On Monday, the last day of the trip, Francis will inaugurate the House of Charity, a place to shelter and help the most needy in Mongolia, which registers 36% of the population living below the poverty line.
The flight to Ulan Bator passed through Chinese airspace, giving Francis a rare opportunity to send a note of greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Vatican protocol requires the pope to send such greetings whenever he flies over a foreign country.
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