With the pope in Ulaanbaatar, the dream of Bishop Padilla and John Paul II is realised
by sr. Nirmala Rani

From the Mongolian capital the testimony of Sister Nirmala Rani, an Indian missionary for 21 years in the country. A visit was in the works in 2003, but Pope John Paul II’s health made it impossible. Mongolia is changing and the Church is trying to meet the challenge among young people. What do we expect from this visit? A powerful “experience of encounter with God”.

Ulaanbaatar (AsiaNews) – Mongolia’s small Catholic community is engaged in an historic vigil, preparing to welcome Pope Francis next Friday morning, 1 September. We publish a testimony by Sister Nirmala Rani, a missionary with the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM) from Tamil Nadu (India) who has spent 21 years in this frontier land for the mission.

I am Sister Nirmala Rani, an ICM missionary in Mongolia, serving the Catholic Church for the past 21 years with joy and commitment.

For sure, we must be hearing the name Mongolia often these days as the Holy Father, Pope Francis, is set to make an apostolic journey to this small, unknown country this year, from September 1 to 4. 

Mongolia is a landlocked country, bordered by Russia in the north and China in the south. Mongolians, with their nomadic culture and Buddhist and Shamanist religious beliefs, are slowly being exposed to Christianity.

The Catholic Church started its missionary involvement with the arrival of CICM[*] Fathers in 1992. In 2003, our beloved late Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, CICM, planned the visit of His Holiness, the late Pope John Paul II, but it was cancelled with the decline of the latter’s health. Now, after 20 years, we are excitedly waiting for His Holiness Pope Francis.

What a joy for this small flock to celebrate the presence of His Holiness! Can you imagine it? The 266th bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic world decides to come and visit our little Church, which on paper counts barely 1,500 baptised people.

As a missionary working among young people, especially in passing on Catholic teachings in Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral parish, I could feel the positive vibes of excitement for the visit of His Holiness, the whispering along the corridors of our parish offices and in meetings with the faithful.

A young girl asked me in wonder: “What can this Pontiff offer us?” Without much delay, I said: “a God experience.” This is in fact what many of our faithful long for, what the apostolic journey of Pope Francis will bring to us, an experience of encounter with God.

It is a golden opportunity for us. It is a time of grace for the faithful in Mongolia. With deep gratitude we stand before God in prayer, asking the Lord to guide us in His ways for this important event. As His Eminence Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, IMC, invites the faithful to pray to our Heavenly Mother of Mongolia to intercede for us, we are looking forward to this ecclesial communion in faith and patience.

I arrived in Mongolia in 2002. Working with young people in the youth commission at the prefecture and Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral parish, I have experienced the joy and the youthfulness of working with young people.

Our world is changing at a rapid pace. Our society today is completely different from how it was when I arrived two decades ago. The major problems we see among young people today in Mongolia are poverty and unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, single parents, nomadic nature in faith, divorce, and misuse of technology. The Church has organised many vocational programmes through its parishes and the youth commission to train our young people to set goals in life.      

The pope’s coming creates a longing in their hearts to see him in person, to grow in one’s  spiritual journey. It is our young people who form Christian families now and raise their children in the Christian faith. It is a challenging journey because they originally come from the Buddhist faith. 

During COVID-19, all our activities were halted because the churches were officially closed. Online masses helped the faithful keep up their faith but it was a challenge to administer the sacraments.

When I arrived the Church was very small in numbers. After 21 years I see a vast growth in the life of the Church and the faithful. Many have embraced faith in Jesus. I have been very much involved in teaching the catechesis, but it was not easy to make people understand dogmas and doctrines. Yet I see a living God among them and the God was present before I touched Mongolian soil.  

In my missionary journey, one thing I treasure is my life's journey with the mentally challenged children at the ICM Rainbow Centre over the past 15 years. I have encountered a God who is suffering silently. The words of Jesus on the cross “I thirst” is a call for me that echoes every day in my heart to respond to their unspoken needs. 

I am happy to serve people in Mongolia for God has sent me as a missionary to the land of blue sky to be his witness till the end of my life.

* missionary with the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Ulaanbaatar

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

[*] Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.