Daejeon (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church in Korea and her "sister" Church in Mongolia are celebrating the ordination of the first deacon hailing from the Asian steppes.
After years of study at the Daejeon seminary, Joseph Enkh-Baatar will be consecrated by Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik. He will be joined in the priesthood by seven young South Koreans. Mgr Wenceslao Padilla, apostolic prefect to Ulaan Baatar, will co-celebrate the service.
Speaking to AsiaNews during Pope Francis' recent pastoral visit to Korea, the new deacon (pictured) described that day as "a dream I can live every day."
Before entering the seminary, Joseph - who hails from the parish of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in the Mongolian capital - earned a degree in biochemistry from the International University of Mongolia, an institution run by the Korean Protestants.
On 28 August 2012, he left his country for Korea, where he first learnt the local language and then devoted himself to theological studies.
"I wanted to go straight to the seminary after finishing school, but my family and everyone in the mission, including the bishop, advised me to educate myself first in college. I was disappointed," Joseph wrote in a comment on the Mongolian Catholic Church website. However, he now recognises that "it was a wise decision".
According to Mgr Padilla, Joseph's entry into the Catholic clergy "will help even more the little flock that lives in the steppes of Mongolia."
"Although at the moment, only another young Mongolian (who is also studying Daejeon) received the vocation along with him, many other young Catholics in the country are living the faith with great seriousness and love."
In addition to the ecclesial, missionary and apostolic importance, this ordination has also great relevance from a practical point of view.
According to the laws of the Republic of Mongolia in fact, only Mongolian nationals have the right to buy land for the purpose of building places of worship and only they can lead religious organisations.
Although quite tolerant of Catholics, Mongolian officials have applied these rules rigidly to other Christian denominations, severely limiting their apostolate in the country.
The latest figures indicate that in Mongolia Christians - of all denominations - represent a little bit more than 2 per cent of the population. Most Mongolians are Buddhist incorporating local shamanistic beliefs and traditions. The proportion of atheists is very high at almost 40 per cent of the total.
There are about a thousand Mongolian Catholics, but they have been able to create and develop over time a number of facilities for orphans, the destitute and senior citizens, as well medical clinics - in a country with limited health services - and several schools and technical institutes.
In 1992, there were no parishes when the first foreign (mostly Filipinos) missionaries arrived, including the future bishop (of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary).
By last year, there were four parishes. Now there are six, which shows how far the Church has come.
In his pastoral letter published for the 20 years of the Church in Mongolia, the apostolic prefect noted that 81 missionaries from 22 different nationalities operated today in the country.