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World News

Pope's first visit to country where Christianity was almost wiped out

by Glyn Jones

Pope Francis is making his first visit to Mongolia, thirty years after the collapse of a totalitarian regime which tried to eradicate Christianity.

Even today, under  two per cent of the country's population of 3.4 million are Christians. Mongolia's Protestant churches have an estimated 50,000 members alongside just 1,500 Catholics.

The Pope's plane was met at Ulaanbaatar‘s Chinggis Khaan airport by Mongolia's Foreign Minister and government officials.

Bayarjargal Garamtseren, a Christian who is working to translate the Bible into Mongolian, tells Premier, "It was a very good, warm State Welcome - very official, very high level.

"It's a big change compared with pre-1990," according to Dr Garamtseren who was born when Mongolia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union.

"At that time there were no Christians and not a single church."

During the visit Pope Francis will address Mongolia's parliament and meet with representatives of the Protestant churches and other faiths.   

Normally, when the Pope visits a country, he is greeted by huge crowds of Catholics. For example, 80,000 people were estimated to have attended a Mass in London's Hyde Park when Pope Benedict visited the UK in 2010. In Mongolia, Bayarjargal Garamtseren admits the crowds will be smaller.

"He will be having Mass on Sunday. I think they are expecting about 3,000 people.

"Compared to other country visits everything about the visit to Mongolia will be smaller. But it will be big enough for our country."

After the Papal visit, Dr Garamtseren will return to the task of translating the Bible into Mongolian. But he thinks the visit of Pope Francis will have a long lasting impact.

"He is such a big and influential figure. He will raise the profile of Mongolia to the world.

"Also he will raise the profile of Christians in this country even though we are a small number."

While crossing over China during the overnight flight, the Pope sent a message to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Vatican protocol requires the Pontiff to send such greetings whenever he flies over a foreign country. The message read : “Assuring you of my prayers for the wellbeing of the nation, I invoke upon all of you the divine blessings of unity and peace.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the greeting showed “friendliness and goodwill.”








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