Pope Francis landed in Ulaanbaatar

2023-09-01 04:12:22

Pope Francis has arrived in Ulaanbaatar to begin his visit to Mongolia. The 86-year-old landed in a special plane operated by the Italian airline Ita in the Mongolian capital on Friday. The head of the Catholic Church was received by Foreign Minister Batmunkh Battsetsegund. A young woman presented the pontiff with a cup of dried yoghurt, a Mongolian specialty. This is a customary welcome gesture in the country.

It is the first visit by a pope to the second largest landlocked country in the world. Francis will stay there until Monday. After the overnight flight, he decided to forego appointments on the first day of his visit. On Saturday he will meet with the Mongolian government and hold talks. He then gives a public address and meets clergy. During the visit, an interfaith meeting is planned, which will also be attended by the pastor of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ulaanbaatar.

In Mongolia, there are just under 1,500 Catholics and a total of 25 priests among the more than three million inhabitants. The main religions there are Buddhism and Shamanism. The trip is therefore also marked by the dialogue between the religions. The geographical location of the country is also interesting for the Pope. The democratic state is sandwiched between Russia and China.

Francis described his trip to Mongolia as a long-awaited visit to the “heart of Asia” that would enable him to “embrace a church that is small in number but alive in faith and great in charity.” During the flight to Mongolia, he praised the country’s tranquility and vastness. Despite the small Catholic community, the country has a cardinal: The 49-year-old Italian Giorgio Marengo has headed the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulan Bator since 2020.

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Francis’ visit to Mongolia is one of three Pope trips in two months. At the beginning of August, Francis took part in World Youth Day in Lisbon and at the end of September he will travel to Marseille, France, for two days. He has been struggling with health problems for a long time. Because of severe knee pain, the pontiff is dependent on a wheelchair. He has already been hospitalized twice this year: first for pneumonia; in June he underwent an operation on his intestines under general anesthesia.

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