EAO, 29 August 2023 - Mongolia is perhaps the most feared mission of our EAO region. For many Mongolia is synonymous to extreme cold. The cold climate could be softened by the warmth and friendship of Mongolians.
In 1992 diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the Vatican were officially established, and three months later the first group of CICM missionaries arrived.
Fr. Václav Klement, then Provincial of Korea, was asked by Fr. Luciano Odorico, Councilor for Missions, to make an initial visit to the country. In 2001 the first group of Salesians arrived in the country: Fr. Carlo Villegas (Filipino) headed the expedition; Fr. Joseph Toth (Slovak); Fr. Simon Lee (Korean); Cl. Paul Trung; Cl. Andrew Tin and Salesian Brother Andrew Tran (all Vietnamese).
Today Salesians are present in Ulaanbaatar, the capital, where they run a Technical Training Center, Day Care Center and a Care Center for boys in difficulties. In 2005 a second a presence was opened in the city of Darkhan where there was no Catholic at all. Today there is the parish of Mary Help of Christians with 300 baptized Catholics, a Study Center offering short courses in Korean, Chinese and English and a daily oratory frequented by many youngsters. Shuwuu is a poor area outside Ulaanbaatar where poor families from the countryside usually stay for a while until they find work in the city. Here the third Salesian presence was opened in 2016 upon the invitation of the Apostolic Prefect Mons. Wenceslao Padilla CICM. Last Aug 15, 2023 the current Apostolic Prefect, Giorgio Cardinal Marengo IMC, consecrated the parish Church dedicated to the Holy Family. Although it has a small community of 75 Catholics, many children and youngsters who are followers of other religions or of no religion frequent the daily Oratory and the Day Care Center.
Is there a sense in spending one’s life in such a harsh climate with such a small number of Catholics? The primary task of our Salesian presence in Mongolia is to foster initial proclamation. There the Church is ‘a little flock’ (Lk 12: 32). Indeed, it is a unique privilege to be part of the beginnings of the Church in Mongolia just like in the time of the Apostles.
Our lifestyle as consecrated men, our personal and community witness through works of charity, friendship and fraternal relationship are all initial proclamations which could stir up an interest in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, our presence in the Oratory, Day Care Center, Care Center for boys in difficulties and in the Parish is our Salesian way of fostering initial proclamation, of planting and build up the local Church. The challenge for every Salesian missionary and every Salesian community in Mongolia is to regularly reflect on and study the meaning and urgency of the initial proclamation. Without this clear intention we risk becoming mere social workers and social services providers.
Today there are only 11 Salesians working in Mongolia. We need perpetually professed Salesians to strengthen this challenging but important mission of our EAO region.
Those who feel the Lord’s call to be missionaries are encouraged to discern with a spiritual guide and make themselves available for Mongolia!