The Pope concludes his trip to Mongolia and says the Church is not intent on conversion

ULAANBAATAR, Sept. 4 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Monday concluded a historic trip to Mongolia, the main goal of which was to visit the small Catholic community, but which gained international connotations due to his overtures to neighboring China on religious freedom.

Francis ended his five-day visit with a stop to inaugurate the House of Mercy, a multi-purpose structure to provide temporary health care to the most needy people in the Mongolian capital as well as to the homeless, victims of domestic violence and migrants.

Housed in a converted school and the brainchild of Mongolia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Italian Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the House of Mercy is intended to serve as a kind of central charity coordinating the work of Catholic missionary institutions and local volunteers.

“The real progress of any country is not measured by economic wealth, let alone investment in the illusory force of armaments, but by its ability to provide health, education and integrated development for its people,” Francis said at home.

He said he wanted to dispel the “myth” that the goal of Catholic institutions is to convert people to the religion “as if caring for others were a way to entice people to join.”

Buddhist-majority Mongolia has only 1,450 Catholics out of a population of 3.3 million, and in an unprecedented event on Sunday, almost the entire Catholic population of the country was under the same roof with the pope.

On Monday, about two dozen Chinese Catholics surrounded the Pope’s motorcade, trying to get his blessings.

The worshipers, who identified themselves as Catholics from mainland China and wore uniforms bearing the phrase “Love Jesus,” gathered outside the House of Mercy charity center.

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As Francis’s motorcade left the centre, they sang a Christian hymn dedicated to the pope in Mandarin and tried to evade security and reach his car. One of the women was able to pass security and received the blessing.

People wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags, as Pope Francis arrives to attend Holy Mass in Steppe Square, during his apostolic journey in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on September 3, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rollins Obtaining licensing rights

The woman, who refused to reveal her name due to the sensitivity of the topic, said: “I am very happy, and I cannot even control my feelings now.”

Mongolia was part of China until 1921, and the Pope’s trip has seen hints or appeals to the neighboring superpower, as the Vatican has tense relations with the ruling Communist Party.

At the end of Sunday Mass, he sent his greetings to China, describing its citizens as a “noble” people and asking Catholics in China to be “good Christians and good citizens.”

In words that appeared to be aimed at China rather than Mongolia, Francis said on Saturday that governments had nothing to fear from the Catholic Church because it had no political agenda.

Beijing pursues a policy of “Sinicization” of religion, in an attempt to eradicate foreign influences and impose obedience to the Communist Party.

The Chinese constitution guarantees religious freedom, but in recent years the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the party’s authority.

In December, the United States designated China, Iran, and Russia, among others, as Countries of Particular Concern under the Religious Freedom Act for serious violations.

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The landmark 2018 agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops was fragile at best, with the Vatican complaining that Beijing had violated that agreement several times.

The phrase the pope used on Sunday — “good Christians, good citizens” — is one the Vatican uses frequently in trying to convince communist governments that giving Catholics more freedom will only help their countries advance socially and economically.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella and Joseph Campbell – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Michael Perry

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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