Ulaanbaatar, Sep 1 (EFE).- Pope Francis arrived Friday in Mongolia, making him the first pontiff to visit the country with the aim of encouraging the small Catholic community, of about 1,400 people, and will rest throughout the day to recover from his nine-and-a-half hour flight.
After arriving at Chinggis Khaan International Airport, he was greeted by Foreign Affairs Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh and a young woman who offered him dried yogurt, a typical custom of the country, and then they met for a few minutes in an airport lounge. The official welcome ceremony will be held Saturday.
Then Francis will go to rest at the prefecture, the residence of the prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, since the Vatican does not have a nunciature in the country.
During the trip, the pope said he came to visit a small people who live in a huge territory, a small people “but with a great culture” and asked to reflect on the silence of the steppes because he said that “Mongolia understands itself with the senses.”
Saturday will be dedicated to institutional appointments: in the morning with the civil authorities, including the president and the prime minister, and in the afternoon with bishops, priests, consecrated missionaries, about 80 throughout the country. Mongolia has nine parishes, four of them in the capital where 40 percent of the population lives, making it one of the most depopulated countries in the world.
Francis will meet with the clergy in the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, built in the 20th century with a structure reminiscent of yurts, typical circular Central Asian tents built to take refuge from the cold and strong winds of the steppes. In it, there is a statue of the Virgin found by a woman in the garbage years ago, later enthroned and venerated as Mother of Heaven.
The pope will also celebrate a mass Sunday afternoon at the Steppe Arena for the faithful residing in Mongolia, 90 percent of whom live in the capital, but another thousand faithful will also join from various neighboring countries such as Russia, China, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Vietnam.
On Sunday he will preside over an ecumenical and interfaith event at the Hun Theater in which representatives of shamanism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and other denominations will participate.
On Monday, the last day of the trip, Francis will inaugurate the House of Charity, a place to shelter and help those most in need in the country, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. EFE