Ulaanbaatar (AsiaNews/UCAN) – The Catholic Church has celebrated 15 years in Mongolia. “God has done great things for us, and we are glad!” said Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, as he took stock of the lessons this period will have for the future.
The Filipino prelate from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) arrived with two confreres in 1992 to open the Mongolian mission.
Today, 64 missioners from 18 countries belonging to nine religious congregations and a Korean diocese, together with six lay missioners from three countries, serve the local Church.
Meanwhile the number of Catholics in the country has reached 415 with 70 more Mongolians baptised in 2007.
The past year also marked the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Mongolia.
Bishop Padilla said 2007 held major and valuable lessons. “The first lesson is that with the leaving and recall of some missionaries, I am more and more made aware of the need for local (Mongolian) clergy and Religious,” he said.
“We are establishing a local Church, but most of the pastoral agents of the apostolic prefecture are foreigners.” For this reason “it is high time to encourage vocation, animation and recruitment in the parishes among the baptised youth,” he added.
Another lesson he says the Church has learned has to do with missioners' “over-indulgence” in social, developmental, educational, and charitable projects, which “should be balanced by strengthening the involvement in spiritual activities.”
“The pastoral plan we formulated for the next three years will hopefully help in (achieving) this temporal and spiritual equilibrium,” Bishop Padilla continued.
He explained that the plan provides a framework for the Mongolian Church to discover the Bible, the sacraments and acts of charity as the true nourishment for human life.
The Catholic Mission in Mongolia now has four rather than the three parishes. They are Sts Peter and Paul, St Mary's, Good Shepherd—with which it began 2007—and Mary Help of Christians, which was added in January 2007 in Darhan, Mongolia's second-largest city with 80,000 inhabitants, 200 kilometres north of the capital.
In addition, this year the number of mission stations has increased from five—Dair Ekh, Niseh, Shuwuu, Yaarmag, Zuun Mod—to six with the addition of Arvaiheer.
Two additional chapels, one in the CICM mission house and the other in Ulaanbaatar's Bayanhushuu district, are not yet considered mission stations, because they do not hold regular Sunday Masses.
The children's ministry involves about 500 children in all the parishes and mission stations, who come to Mass and take part in Sunday-school classes held by the Missionaries of Charity sisters and Mongolian catechists.
The ministry to another 200 children and youth continues at Amgalan Boys' Village, the Verbist Care Centre for Street Children and the Centre for Girls at Risk in Dairekh.
Poor children who are unable to afford regular schools attend the St Paul schools in Ulaanbaatar and Zuun Mod. Younger children go to the Montessori kindergartens in Bayanhoshuu and Erdenet.
For those old enough to learn work skills, the Don Bosco Technical Vocational School offers an alternative to academics, while university and college students can stay in Church-run dormitories.
Two other educational projects—the Rainbow Centre for Children with Special Needs in Sharhad and a St Mary's Parish Programme for Infants and Very Young Children with Special Needs—serve about 600 children.