Almost a third of the missionaries present in the small Catholic community that will welcome Pope Francis in a few days are originally from South Korea. From the educational service of the nuns of Saint Paul de Chartres to the fidei donum priests of the diocese of Daejeon which, following the decision of its former ordinary bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik has been sending fifth year summer seminarians to Mongolia for years. The life given by Fr. Kim Stephano Seong Hyeon in memory of Fr. Peter Sanjajav, the second indigenous priest.
Ulan Bator (AsiaNews) - Bayanhushuu is a poor district on the outskirts of Ulan Bator where an expanse of dilapidated houses stands alongside thousands of ger, the traditional Mongolian tents: cheap residences for those who migrate from the surrounding steppes in search of a life less hard, but in the capital it is difficult to find opportunities for emancipation.
At the top of a barren hill, unexpected compared to the surrounding degradation, a large, modern red brick building stands out: it is the school run by the South Korean nuns of Saint Paul de Chartres, present since 1996 in Mongolia, where Pope Francis will is due to travel from 31 August to 4 September to encourage a Church born three decades ago and which has just 1,500 faithful.
"We opened this institute two years ago and today two hundred students from the neighborhood attend it", says the director, sr. Clara Lee Nan Young showing the welcoming and well-kept classrooms, the computer and English laboratories and the library.
If the children study here up to the age of high school, the younger ones are welcomed in the building next door, a Montessori kindergarten where crowds of children in uniform play blocks on the carpets that cover the parquet floors. From every detail the philosophy of these missionaries shines through: even the children of the most disadvantaged families have the right to the best educational offer.
The Sisters of Saint Paul de Chartres, who refer to the congregation's Taegu province and are engaged in the ministry of education and health, represent only one of the faces of the South Korean Church in Mongolia. From the Asian country come 23 of the 77 missionaries - priests, religious, lay people - present between Ulan Bator, Arvaikheer, Erdenet and Darkhan.
They arrived through different congregations, from the Congregatio Jesu to the Salesians to the Sisters of Mother Teresa, but not only. Perhaps the most significant sign of the privileged link between the Churches of these two neighboring countries are in fact the fidei donum priests, currently four, from the South Korean diocese of Daejeon.
This friendship began 25 years ago, and was strongly supported by the then bishop (now cardinal) Lazzaro You Heung-sik, who encouraged the choice to regularly send the fifth year seminarians of his diocese for a period of summer missionary experience in Mongolia .
Fr. Thomas Ro Sang-min was among them. Today he is parish priest of the church of Santa Sofia which stands at the end of a dirt road in the same district of Bayanhushuu.
"Every Thursday, together with a group of teenagers, we go to distribute food to needy families who live on the edge of a landfill", says the 38-year-old priest, who leads the parish founded in 2012 by another fidei donum of his diocese. With the young, Father Thomas also organizes outings and group initiatives: "We go to the city, to the cinema or ice skating, or we go hiking in the mountains around here".
In addition, of course, to moments of prayer, catechesis and formation. "I try to stay close to these kids, who sometimes don't breathe a serene atmosphere at home, and through them I also bring families closer: adults today have to face a difficult situation, with a lack of work, the devaluation of the currency and insufficient social policies".
Sr. Veronica Kim Hye Kyung has also dedicated her life to serving others and today manages the Saint Mary clinic, opened by the Apostolic Prefecture at the cathedral of Ulan Bator. "It is a health facility for those who cannot afford treatment", explains the nun.
"Every year, thanks also to the help of volunteer doctors, we guarantee around 10,000 operations". And in some cases it was possible to help patients with special needs to be treated abroad, through contacts with the South Korean Church.
One of the most representative faces of this solid missionary bond - in a context in which the pop culture from Seoul is also very popular, from music to TV series - is that of Fr. Kim Stephano Seong Hyeon (photo 4), vicar general of the apostolic prefecture of Ulan Bator and parish priest of the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, who died suddenly in May, aged only 55.
Also a diocesan priest of Daejeon, he had arrived in Mongolia in 2002, where, among other things, he had spent himself on the creation of the parish of Santa Maria Assunta in Khan Uul, in the capital: the first church he erected in the neighborhood was a simple ger traditional
One of the needy young people whom Fr. Kim cared for at the beginning of his mission is Fr. Peter Sanjajav, who became the second indigenous priest in the history of modern Mongolia (the first was Fr. Joseph Enkh-Baatar in 2016).
"His testimony of service was decisive for my vocation", says Fr. Peter, who attended the seminar in Daejeon. "One day I asked him why he and the other missionaries had chosen to give their lives in a difficult context and with a very harsh climate like Mongolia. In response, he showed me the crucifix. And a new life opened up for me ".
ECCLESIA IN ASIA IS THE ASIANEWS NEWSLETTER DEDICATED TO CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES IN ASIA. WOULD YOU LIKE TO RECEIVE IT EVERY SUNDAY VIA E-MAIL? SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER HERE.