At Easter, a record eight baptisms in Arvaikheer
The neophytes include teenagers, young people and older adults. Choosing Christianity “needs family support". Turning to “faith is seen as an appeal for release, healing and protection” from the evil spirits that exist in shamanism. A teenager converts after meeting God in his suffering.
Arvaikheer (AsiaNews) – On Easter eve "we had eight baptisms of catechumens, the highest number ever reached by our Christian community," said a joyful Fr Giorgio Marengo, Consolata missionary in Mongolia.
The clergyman has lived in the Asian country since 2003 and is parish priest in Arvaikheer, a town more than 400 km from the capital Ulaanbaatar.
He spoke to AsiaNews about the path of spiritual conversion that led eight residents – young and old – to embrace the Christian faith during the Easter vigil.
Four of them are aged 15 to 18. "They come from Catholic families or have some already baptised relatives,” Fr Giorgio explained. “They followed two years of preparation prescribed by the local Church and experienced their baptism as the crowning moment of that journey."
Their older age "is explained by our decision to be cautious with baptising the little ones. Instead, our aim in the past years was to create the conditions for adults to embrace the faith. This meant that their children or grandchildren had reference points in the family. Without family support, teenagers are more likely to abandon the faith."
"Despite their strong youthful enthusiasm, if nobody helps at home, young people often move away from the Church and stop practising the faith. In a non-Christian country like Mongolia, having chosen Christianity needs family support; otherwise, at crucial moments in life like marriage or when one has children, the rest of the family can ostracise people, shun them or creates problems."
The tendency of being shunned in society – if one adheres to a religion that is different from Tibetan Buddhism or Shamanism – happened to a local Catholic family. Gantulga and Uurtsaikh have two children, Otgonerdene and Sainzaya, 10 and 13 years old. Both were baptised on Easter eve.
"Recently, the family suffered a major lost. Their 17-year-old son committed suicide. This has caused a lot of pain and instability in the family and we have tried to support their path of reflection."
Popular beliefs in spirits play an important role and have added to the family’s sorrow, making the situation worse. Painful or tragic events are often read in the light of a hostile spirit world, which must somehow be held in check.
"Since their son took his own life, the parents have endured a lot of suffering and fear. Now they are afraid that the spirits will come back to haunt the other family members if they do not rely on the intervention of the shamans."
For this reason, "we accepted their request to baptise their children since the baptism is considered a gift of spiritual protection and security. The children did not follow a conventional preparation, so they will catch up with catechism for the First Communion."
In this sense, "turning to faith is seen as an appeal for release, healing and protection from all this. Of course, it must be matured and based on awareness, but that is how reality is perceived. We must meet these fears and possibly alleviate them, remove them.” Besides, “people themselves see baptism and the Christian life as a way to come under God’s protection, an omnipotent and merciful God who does not allow people to be attacked by evil spirits."
Baterdene, 28, is one of the neophytes Fr Marengo feels closest to. "He has a very special past. He spent the past eight years in and out of hospitals under the surgeon’s scalpel. We have known him for years, since he was in second year agriculture studies. At the time, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and went to Korea for surgery. The operation was successful and he has recovered.”
"After he came back, he started to suffer back problems, until he was diagnosed with Ankylosing spondylitis, a disease that causes the progressive loss of flexion in the patient's vertebral column.
"When this happening, he started attending church, coming to Mass and showing interest in the catechesis. We saw his suffering, and got some people involved until a Korean Catholic hospital agreed to operate him and bear the costs of the operation and the hospital stay."
In his journey of extreme suffering, during he was confined to a bed for most of the time, "Baterdene realised that people were taking care of him, even if he was not a Christian, but simply for his sake.”
"After the operation, we became close and he expressed a desire to be baptised. A woman went to his tent every week to prepare him for the catechumenate, which was supplemented by long discussions with me about faith, the meaning of Christian life and prayer.”
"He realised that praying is the means by which one can maintain the vital bond with God, which allows us to turn to him whenever we want to, and that everything we bring to the prayer is not lost but is offered in prayer. Thus, the Lord takes upon himself all our burdens."
"The young man met God in suffering,” Fr Giorgio noted. “And he found someone willing to alleviate it out of love. One of the reasons that prompted him to ask for the baptism is his experiencing the nearness of God, who does not abandon you when you have a problem. The suffering Christ showed that one can experience illness with faith and trust.”