(AsiaNews) - On 10 July
1992, a Church was born in the steppes of Central Asia. This happened when
three missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) set foot on Mongolian
soil. It felt like it was an adventure for the three male-religious to
spearhead a mission where the Church has no physical structures or members to
call her own. From the start, to establish a Church from scratch was a scary
endeavor, full of challenges and excitement as well.
when the Republic of Mongolia has just been liberated from the grip of Soviet Russia,
the country was at its first faltering steps to stand on its own. The newly
constituted government was trying to address the various problems and needs of
the country and the people. It was somewhat chaotic in the public places as a
'hunger strike' was being staged in front of the Parliament/Presidential
building asking for the stepping down of the then prime minister. The one
leading the demonstration was a fearless and committed advocate of Democracy, in
the person of the now incumbent Mongolian President, Mr. Ts. Elbegdorj.
in rented apartments, we slowly found our way into the hearts of the Mongols by
trying to be one with them experiencing the hardships and difficulties of life
at that time. There was scarcity of food and lack of commodities. Mongolia was
a 'hardship country' according to many foreigners whom we met during the first
days of our integration. Not long afterwards nonetheless, after having acquired
more knowledge of the people and their way of life, and after learning a bit
their language, we became more confident in making contacts with the locals.
"Come and See" was then our adopted watchword, for
people to feel welcome and comfortable in associating and getting close to us.
The curious questions of the people had-Who are these foreigners? . . . What do
they do? . . . What are they in Mongolia for? -were slowly answered when we
started inviting and gathering people for liturgical celebrations, organizing
catechism classes, and doing social action activities.
first years were periods of survival, adjustment and adaptation to the physical
realities of the country and its people. For the trio, they were truly years of
discernment, enculturation, and first evangelization . . . the first contacts
of the institutional Church with people of other religious beliefs and
not mind so much the challenging difficulties that befell us, like extreme
harsh winters, language barrier, lack of commodities, strong religious
affiliations of the people to Buddhism, Shamanism, and Islam, presence of other
Christian denominations and sects, and the absence of Church structures and
local Catholic believers. Personally, I took all of these as positive aspects
of mission life. Such conditions offered to us a challenge and an opportunity.
We maintained a strong conviction that the God who called and sent us to
Mongolia had already been present in the ordinary lives of the Mongolian
brothers and sisters even before we arrived.
quick look at the Church in Mongolia today
back at these first 20 years of the Catholic Church presence in Mongolia, we
are glad to repeat with the psalmist, "Indeed He did great things for us; how happy we were. (Ps, 126:3)."
the three pioneer missionaries, we now have 81 strong, from 22 different
nationalities, and from 13 groups/religious congregations. And from the zero
Catholic population, around 835 Mongolian brothers and sisters have now joined
the Catholic fold through Christian initiation. Many more are being introduced
to the Catholic faith and are served through different outreach programs of the
the significant increase of Church personnel (missionaries and local
collaborators), pastoral, social, developmental, educational, humanitarian and
charitable works keep evolving and continue to flourish. These projects are all
geared towards uplifting the plight of the poor people. The mission now prides
itself of four parishes and six sub-stations with social outreach services, three
street children centers, a home for elderly men, two Montessori kindergartens, two
primary schools, a center for handicapped children, a technical school, three libraries
with study halls and computer facilities, a lady's dorm for university
students, equipped with a study hall and computer/Internet facilities, youth
activity centers, two agricultural farms with community building programs, an
outpatient clinic with laboratory and much more.
year, to boost the 20th anniversary of the Catholic Church Mission,
one of the parish sub-stations, Mary-Mother of Mercy, will be upgraded to a
parish status. The Prefecture's elementary school, whose construction started two
years ago, will also be inaugurated.
are glad that two Mongolian youngsters are now in one of South Korea's major seminaries,
at the Catholic University of Daejeon, pursuing their vocation to the
all these, we are now able to spearhead into the future with much hope and
confidence. With patience and determination we are resolved to reach out to
more people not only to those who already joined us in faith but also to those
who are served in our works, though not yet baptized.
frustration, however, is creeping into the adolescent Church. Around 23% of the
baptized are no longer frequenting the Church liturgies. Some have already
given up on the Church. Another 15% are abroad in their pursuit for greener
pastures. Hoping that they are still practicing some sort of Christian life
anywhere they are.
into the future with its challenges
years have passed. It is now hard to trace back where we have started. With the
metamorphosis/transformations of the country brought about by democracy and
market economy, Mongolia spearheads into a future unknown to many a generation
of Mongolians. It is now in the limelight and caters to the greed of foreign
investors due to its wealth in natural resources. Mining has boomed in the most
recent years and is drawing a migration movement from the cities to the
countryside. There is also an influx of foreign experts/workers doing the infra
structure of the mining industry and initial mining operations.
the development brought about by this phenomenon, the standard of living of the
people is reaching higher levels. The cost of living and the cost of
commodities are gaining new standards.
up with this situation, the people are allocated with subsidies from the
government that already takes considerable amounts from the investment tendered
by the mining companies. As it were, the 'not yet realized gains' from the
mining activities are already being used by the political authorities to share
with the people. As a consequence, most of the government's dividends from the
profits of mining will most likely go back to the investors once the mining
operations would be fully developed and profitable.
Catholic Church is very much affected by the trend of the present times. The
challenges we have to encounter as a Church are tremendous. What is happening
might be beneficial to the people but at the detriment of the Catholic Church
that seeks its support and sustenance from abroad. There is no local income as
the Church was entered as a non-profit-making organization. This year's
increase of salaries to 53% also adds heavily to the Church's financial
burdens. It is most likely that the missionaries have to tighten their belts,
slash out a good number of personnel or close down some of their projects.
with the above-mentioned difficulty that the Church is struggling with, is the much-lessened
foreign grants and donations to sustain its projects. The funding agencies,
which are affected by the lingering economic recession, could no longer give as
much as in former years. Benefactors who hear or see the
advertisements/propaganda about Mongolia's rise to wealth are also giving less.
With this new situation, the Church has to hurdle greater obstacles for her to
condition that the Church has to put up with is the revival of Shamanism, the
culture-based religion of the people, propagating the worship of nature . . . Tengerism
(worship of the Blue Skies). People are again going back to the resurgence of
their ancient cultural customs and traditional beliefs.
due to the need of numbers to run the mining operations, I surmise that with
this new situation, there ought to be a shift in Church/mission strategies to
help address the pressing needs of the people ushered by the expected reverse
migration from urban to rural presences as well.
of the Church: What can the Church offer to Mongolia today?
relevant, the Church has to look harder into the future adapting to the fast
changing society propelled by democracy, market-economy, materialism, and
consumerism. From a nomadic pasturing community to settlers in the cities and
mining sites, with augmented sedentary form of existence, the Church has to
adopt new avenues of apostolate/ministries to do her evangelizing mission . . .
the spread of the Gospel. The thriving Church to be needed has to concentrate
on helping the people in preserving or acquiring values of civilized living.
This can be achieved, I believe, in inculcating human and Christian values and
the disciplines that go along with them.
crossing a threshold where the Church has concentrated her efforts, in bygone
years, to social-developmental-humanitarian works. They still remain as
involvements since many of the people especially those in the countryside and
the newly arrived migrants in the cities are still struggling with their social
and economic life due to lack of social ethics and the bloated price of
commodities. However, strengthening the pastoral and educative role of Church has
come to age.
Education in its varied ramifications has to be embraced. I believe that in
whatever direction Mongolia and its people are going to, a change in mentality
from nomadic/rural to sedentary/civilized way of life has to take place. This
can only happen with right attitudes and ways of behavior to be ushered by
proper learning. The Church can help in this respect by strengthening its educative
commitments and endeavors.
the Church has to maintain its reputation as a welcoming Church and the
defender of the poor, offering moral strength to the needy. The life witness of
her constituents, to be credible and trustworthy agents of evangelization, must
be consistent in their preaching and Christian way of life . . . witnessing to
the Gospel and its values in words and deeds.
way of conclusion
believe that this Church thrives with God's Spirit leading it. She survived the
earlier and more difficult years of her existence by the dedication and
commitment of the missionaries and their lay collaborators, and I know that it
persists to grow with the ongoing commitment of her pastoral agents and cooperators
coupled by the generosity of philanthropic individuals and groups of other
particular Churches all over the world. To our benefactors, we are indebted,
indeed! A grateful note of thanks to our supporters! Thanks and God Bless!
a strong spirit of collaboration and organization like integrating our
different congregational charisma in a common effort and vision is very much
needed. The spirit of unity and communion among the missionaries is a must, as
it is the best testimony we can offer/transmit to our Mongolian people. Also,
the personal life of each of the pastoral agents is a powerful way to testify
to the Gospel. The words of Pope Paul VI are the truer in our situation, "Men
and women today listen more gladly to the witnesses than to the masters, and if
they listen to masters, it is because they are witnesses" (Evangelii
Nuntiandi, § 41).
Mongolian Mission moves onwards into the future, fully mindful of the "We" of the
Church, the "We" of the apostolic faith. Each one has a different task in the
field of the Lord, but we are all God's fellow workers. This is valid for us
today and in the future . . . for every Christian. We are all humble ministers
of Jesus. We serve the Gospel in the measure that we can, according to our
gifts, and we ask God to make His Good News and His Church Community develop
today and in the times to come through Us.
And so, beyond fulfilling our functions effectively,
is the real challenge of being true missionaries called upon to help transform the
lives of those we come in contact with, especially the poor and needy, in our
missionary endeavors and ministries.