In an extraordinary occasion, Pope Francis presided over a Mass in Mongolia’s capital on Sunday alongside nearly the entire Catholic population of the nation.
The pope’s visit to the Catholic community of about 1,450 – claimed to be the world’s lowest per capita in a Mongolian population of around 3.3 million, the most of whom are Buddhists – included the Mass at Ulaanbaatar’s Steppe Arena.
The majority of Mongolia’s nine parishes are in the capital, but one in a distant region has just around 30 members, and Church authorities indicated everyone who could make it would go.
Many Mongolians still practice nomadic grazing of their livestock, and the pope utilized the image to make his point in his sermon.
“All of us are God’s nomads, pilgrims in search of happiness, wayfarers thirsting for love,” he added, adding that the Christian religion satisfied that thirst.
A number of Buddhist monks dressed in saffron robes attended the Mass, which was held in Mongolian, English, and Italian.
Francis began his last day in Mongolia at an inter-religious ceremony, where he named himself one of the “humble heirs” of old schools of wisdom and referenced the Buddha. He leaves for Rome on Monday after inaugurating a Church charity and health facility.
There, sharing a theatre stage with a dozen other religious representatives, he urged all religions to live in harmony and shun ideological fundamentalism that foments violence.
Since he started the trip, Francis has praised religious freedom in Mongolia. The landlocked country borders China, which human rights groups say represses religious freedom and which has difficult relations with the Vatican.
“Religions are called to offer the world this harmony, which technological progress alone cannot bestow,” Francis said after listening to addresses from leaders representing Mongolian Buddhists, Muslims, evangelicals, Jews, Orthodox, Mormons, Hindus, Shintos, Bahais and shamans.
“Brothers and sisters, today we are meeting together as the humble heirs of ancient schools of wisdom. In our encounter with one another, we want to share the great treasure we have received, for the sake of enriching a humanity so often led astray on its journey by the myopic pursuit of profit and material comfort,” he said.
Francis quoted from a writings of the Buddha that says “the wise man rejoices in giving”, noting it was similar to Jesus’ saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.