Ulaanbaatar (AsiaNews) – On 28 August of this year, Mongolia’s tiny Catholic community will welcome its first native priest, Joseph Enkhee-Baatar, at a service in Ulaanbaatar’s Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral led by Mgr Wenceslao Padilla, apostolic prefect of Mongolia.
In December 2014, the future priest was ordained deacon by Mgr Lazzaro You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon. Fr Giorgio Marengo, a Consolata missionary present in the country since 2003, sent AsiaNews the following piece in which he describes the reaction of his community of faithful to the news.
The small Catholic community in Arvaiheer (21 people) joyfully welcomed the news that on 28 August Enkhee-Joseph will be ordained as the first native priest of ‘Outer’ Mongolia. In Chinese-controlled Inner Mongolia, there have been priests in the past century, but none in independent Mongolia. Enkhee will be the first.
Sitting around the table, sipping some suutei-tsai (a salty tea with milk) after Sunday Mass, parishioners expressed their views about the news. Obviously, they are happy about it.
For some, "Enkhee has shown that he is very patient and disciplined if he has managed to train for so long and in a foreign country." In fact, Enkhee spent many years at seminary in Daejeon, South Korea, the guest of the local diocese.
The faithful know that becoming a priest is a demanding process, especially in terms of self-discipline. Some actually can hardly believe it. Still "One of us has it made! And if he did it, others will follow his example. We are sure that there will be many after him."
In reality, no one knows him personally. When they were baptised, he was already in Korea to study. Of course, they their love and prayer went along with him to the faraway place.
"For us it is very important that the new priest be Mongolian because he will speak our language like one of our children or one of our siblings. More importantly, he will be able to link the faith to our traditions."
Such a goal is quite legitimate. For a religion still seen as "foreign", having a native minister can mean a lot both in terms of the relationship with local secular authorities, who so far have had to deal with foreigners (us missionaries). At a deeper level, they also know that Enkhee will be able to do a lot to reconcile traditional Mongolian practices and the Catholic faith.
"We expect that a Mongolian priest knows better how to explain our faith to those who have questions; this way, he can help us on our journey of internalising the same faith."
A flicker of satisfaction and joy can be seen in their eyes: pride in being Mongolian. As one woman says, he will be able to “connect our faith with what our ancestors passed on to us and made us what we are: Mongolians.” For Catholics in Arvaiheer, “This is the greatest wish. And they will count on Enkhee for this.”
Eventually, the conversation shifted to television where a Christian woman was able to respond intelligently to a journalist’s provocations, showing that her faith did not go against the deepest values she had received.
For a moment, the faithful forgot about Enkhee and began asking me to help them understand how Catholics must participate in family or social events in which the others follow the country’s dominant Buddhist tradition. Everyone talked about their experience. I listened to them and tried to offer some suggestions.
Ultimately, our role as missionaries is to foster the encounter with Christ. After that, it will be up to them re-define their cultural identity in the light of the faith, and find their place in society. The first Mongolian priest will help in this, as long as he can remain humble and attentive after he meets a lot of people in August.
Let us also hope that his fellow Mongolian Catholics will help him keep his feet on the ground, and become a minister of mercy and holiness who accompanies them in the inculturation of their faith. With a lot of praying and through a simple life.
Meanwhile, we Consolata missionaries shall remain, unless a wave of extreme nationalism does not force us to leave. Perennial outsiders, we are pilgrims and visitors, the seed that falls to the ground and disappears, so that the Church may be born.