The Youngest Church in the World
It was with great interest that those of us in ministry with The Pontifical Mission Societies (TPMS) watched Pope Francis' recent trip to Mongolia. We know it as the "youngest Church in the world." Missionaries, supported by our Societies, have only had a sanctioned presence since 1992.
Upon his arrival, then-Father Wenceslao (Wens) Padilla, C.I.C.M., a Missionhurst priest, found a country struggling with issues like alcoholism, domestic abuse, and extreme poverty. He said the people were searching "for God and for holiness".
Father Wens became Bishop Wens, welcoming 20 to 50 Catholics a year into the Church. Today, there are almost 1,500 Catholics in the growing flock; the first native Mongolian priest was ordained in 2016.
After Bishop Wens died in 2018, Consolata missionary Bishop Giorgio Marengo, I.M.C., (now Cardinal Marengo) stepped in to continue the work, especially that of the Verbist Care Center where children and young teens receive the education and healthcare otherwise denied to them because of their poverty.
When Soko was found and brought to the Center, she was living underground next to pipes that carry hot water to people's homes. Like many of the homeless in the area, she did this to stay warm in the harsh, cold climate. Soko's face had been badly burned in an accident. After receiving medical treatment through the Center's medical program, Soko no longer hides. She has dreams of being a makeup artist.
Oldoh's family left him outside a hospital when he was eight years old; they were too poor to care for him. He was unable to walk and had to be carried everywhere by his friends and adults. Oldoh came to live at the Center and has had multiple operations on his feet. Now he not only walks but has also learned to love playing basketball. Oldoh enjoys school and wants to be a teacher when he is older.
In August, Pope Francis was in the news for celebrating Mass with 1.5 million people at World Youth Day. In Mongolia, the entire Catholic population of the country fit under one roof for the liturgy with him. The Holy Father encouraged them, "As you lift your eyes to Mary, then, may you find refreshment, knowing that being little is not a problem, but a resource. God loves littleness, and through it he loves to accomplish great things, as Mary herself bears witness."
Starting from zero -- no Catholics -- the Church there has been built, with great love and care, by missionaries. With your help, TPMS remains committed to offering practical and spiritual support to those in need as they continue to build the Church in the world's most remote places.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.