Mongolia, Christmas with Our Lady found in landfill
by Giorgio Bernardelli

Christmas in Ulan Bator, described by Card. Giorgio Marengo - chosen by Pope Francis in the last consistory. The prelate leads a Church that was born just 30 years ago in the steppe and counts a total of 1,400 faithful. "The coal scandal has exasperated people at an already difficult time. Christmas wish from Mongolia: to discover that this Child is born to take ever deeper roots among us as well."

Ulan Bator (AsiaNews) - "We started our Christmas on December 8. All together. Consecrating Mongolia to Our Lady, in front of the statue of the Immaculate found among the garbage." He is the youngest cardinal in the Catholic Church today. But not only because of his 48 years. Giorgio Marengo, an Italian Consolata missionary and apostolic prefect of Ulan Bator, is the face of the Church of Mongolia, born just 30 years ago.

It is a small flock in an immense country counts a total of 1,400 faithful, scattered among different communities who gathered together in the capital a few weeks ago to brighten this Christmas.

"The statue of the Immaculate Conception," Fr. Marengo recounts from the -20 degrees in Ulan Bator, "was found a decade ago in a dump in northern Mongolia. It was discovered by a non-Christian woman, a mother of 11 children, who had some contact with Mother Teresa's nuns. Rummaging through the garbage dumped by the truck, as the poor do across the globe, she came across a strange cloth wrapper. Opening it, she found herself in front of this beautiful wooden statue of the Immaculate Conception, 62 cm high, very fine. Without knowing what it was she took it home saying: this beautiful lady wanted to come to me... Until the nuns, returning to visit her, saw it and asked her where it came from."

For some years the statue remained in the local parish office. "I myself learned about it only last year," continues Card. Marengo - "At that point I thought: Our Lady wants to tell us something. I went to the place, met the lady. Then on March 25 - on the Feast of the Annunciation, in agreement with the community - we officially moved the statue to Ulan Bator with the idea of enthroning it in the cathedral, so that it would be better known and venerated by everyone."

Thus came the December 8 celebration, which was also accompanied by another meaningful gesture. "We invited all our 1,400 Catholics to send us a piece of cloth that was particularly meaningful to them," the apostolic prefect continued, "accompanying it with a phrase, a prayer. By putting them on we made a mantle that we offered to the Virgin, with the presentation of our prayers. It was a beautiful, very heartfelt moment."

It is an important gesture in an important year for the small Church of Mongolia, which was born in 1992.

"Today we will live Christmas Masses in the different communities," explained Fr. Marengo, "but on Boxing Day we will have a moment of meeting and celebration with all the missionaries and lay collaborators, to conclude the 30th anniversary. There will also be a small living nativity scene with some of our young people."

Christmas comes at a sensitive time for Mongolia: in recent weeks the country has been rocked by protests over corruption in coal sales. "This theft here is on everyone's lips," says the cardinal, "the government itself has admitted it. The resentment is heightened by the fact that the country is by no means sailing in calm waters economically, people feel robbed. The government has now announced regulations for greater transparency in state-owned enterprises, which are the tool used for this parallel trade in coal for the benefit of a few. But the crisis has been strong."

As for the war between Russia and Ukraine, the main effect here has been the influx of Russians fleeing, particularly from neighboring Buryatia. "But for many, Mongolia was just a place of transit, from which they then reached other countries," the cardinal says.

What wish will he extend to his faithful this Christmas? "I will express with them the great sense of gratitude for what has happened in these 30 years of our Church: a small seed that in a relatively short time has already borne fruit. Gratitude also for the life given here by Msgr. Wenceslao Padilla (the previous apostolic prefect, of Filipino origin, who passed away in 2018 ed.) and many other missionaries and missionaries. But also a sense of commitment to put down deeper and deeper roots, to discover more and more this child who is born for us. A reminder of the realism of the incarnation: the manger is the place where the baby Jesus was laid to be eaten by us in the Eucharist. It is the Lord himself who remains here in our midst."