11/29/2004, 00.00
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My art is at the service of God, convert says

Painter and sculptor Enkhutuvshin speaks about his journey towards Christianity. He is one of Mongolia's 226 baptised Catholics.

Ulaanbaatar (AsiaNews/UCAN) – "God is the hand that inspires and guides my works," said Enkhutuvshin, a painter and sculptor, as he narrated the journey that led him to Christianity and talked about the importance of art in his life.

One of the 226 members of the young Mongolian Catholic Church, he was among the first 14 who were baptised on Easter Sunday 1994. The 38-year-old artist never tires from saying that art was the privileged path that led him to the Church and God.

"In the beginning I created works of art out of an aesthetic interest; then I started seeking God through art. Now God is the hand that inspires and guides my work".

The unusual journey that changed Enkhutuvshin started when he was 16. It was the early 80's and Mongolia was under communist rule. Freedom of thought and religion were banned. No outside influences were allowed into the country unless approved by the government.

"I really liked the pictures of Madonna statues," he said, "but I knew nobody would appreciate it in Mongolia.

But Enkhtuvshin was among the very few talented and lucky students who were allowed to go to Russia for higher studies.

"While I was in Moscow, I thought, like most of my colleagues, that art was everything. We were completely absorbed in art for art's sake," he said.

The young artist was attracted to Renaissance art but found it puzzling that all the pictures and statues were connected to Christianity, a religion banned by Mongolia's Communist regime and described as cruel by its leaders.

"I was taught at school that Christianity was a cruel religion. But when I looked at paintings by Raphael or statues by Michelangelo, it just did not make sense. I came to the conclusion that a religion that inspired such art could not be that terrible," he said.

In Romania, where he went to further his studies, he visited Catholic churches in Brasow and saw a living congregation in each one.

"I used to think that Catholicism and Catholic art were of the past, just like the Renaissance. But there I was in Brasow, among my beloved paintings and statues, and there were people praying and practicing their religion in front of the very same works of art. It was by no means a museum. It was all alive," he reflected.

Marked by the experience, he found a Catholic church on his return to Moscow, where he tried to pray. He recalled that his father died soon after his visit to Romania, and he found prayer helped in his grieving. He became a Christian not long after that.

"There are so many things I do not know," he admitted. "I have been copying a lot; in fact, most of my pictures and some of the statues are copied or at least inspired by existing works."

At home, he has rented a study near his parish church. Almost his entire salary as a teacher of sculpture at the Mongolian College of Fine Arts pays for it. It is worth it, he says, because the studio is close to his home and next door to the parish church where he prays before work.

He is known in Mongolia and, now, abroad. He recently opened an exhibition that was featured on Mongolian national television and finished a door-relief in a Moscow church.

Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, head of Ulaanbaatar prefecture, asked the artist to paint images of the Blessed Mother. Some of Enkhtuvshin's drawings have been presented to Pope John Paul II, who is to select and approve an image that will represent Mary, Queen of Mongolia.

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