Ulaanbaatar weeps for Father Kim, a missionary devoted to the local Church
by Chiara Zappa

A fidei donum from the Diocese of Daejeon, he died suddenly today at the age of 55 after serving Mongolia’s small Catholic community for the past 20 years. Cardinal Marengo appointed him as the apostolic prefecture’s vicar general. He lived for some years in the steppes among nomadic shepherds. A few days ago he talked to AsiaNews about the challenges of his mission today among the young people of the capital.

Ulaanbaatar (AsiaNews) – Mongolia’s Catholic Church is small and waiting for the visit of Pope Francis in September, but today, it is mourning the passing of Fr Kim Stephano Seong Hyeon, a fidei donum priest and the vicar general of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar.

The 55-year-old South Korean clergyman died this from a heart attack at his parish church, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar.

Fr Kim arrived in Mongolia in 2002 from the Diocese of Daejeon (South Korea). In the capital, Ulaanbaatar, he created the Parish of Holy Mother Mary in Khan-Uul district.

From there, he moved to Erdenesant, a district in the steppes 200 km from Ulaanbaatar, where he lived in a ger, a typical Mongolian tent, alongside nomadic shepherds, who are still numerous in the country, travelling on horseback.

In 2020, the newly appointed apostolic prefect, Bishop Giorgio Marengo,[*] a Consolata missionary, brought him to the capital to serve as his vicar.

Since then, Father Kim has provided pastoral care to the faithful at the cathedral parish (350 baptised Catholics) and spiritual assistance to the Korean community as well as performed his duties at the Apostolic Prefecture.

Fr Kim spoke to AsiaNews a few days ago about his first years of mission in Ulaanbaatar, noting that "we opened the doors of our ger-like church not knowing whom we were going to welcome”. He also talked about current challenges, namely the changing youth, who are “less tied to traditions and strongly influenced by the new means of communication".

This afternoon, many Mongolian Catholics attended the memorial service led by Card Marengo at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Joining the missionaries and their pastor, people came, stunned and distraught, to pay tribute to and thank Fr Stephano Kim for the years he dedicated with passion to his small flock in the Asian country.

After the funeral, which will be celebrated in the coming days, the missionary will be laid to rest in Ulaanbaatar, near Mongolia’s first Catholic bishop, Scheut missionary[†] Wencenslao Padilla from the Philippines.

The Mongolian Catholic Church was founded in 1992 following the end of 70 years of communist rule. Today it has about 1,300 members. Some 77 missionaries are present in the country, including priests, nuns and lay people.

Buddhism is Mongolia’s majority religion, but after decades of state atheism, more than 30 per cent of the population is non-religious.

Pope Francis will visit this remote part of the Church community during a pastoral visit next September, as he has said on several occasions.

[*] Pope Francis elevated the bishop to the rank of cardinal in August 2022.

[†] Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.