Pope Paul VI’s words help us understand Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Mongolia.
Pope Francis is traveling to Mongolia – a visit he “craves”, and which John Paul II had already contemplated but never materialised, after missionaries revived the country’s Christian community in the early 1990s. The Church that will receive Peter’s successors in the heart of Asia is a Church “small in number, yet alive in faith and great in love.” Pope Francis met not only the country’s 1,500 Catholics, but also the “noble” and “wise” Mongolian people with their great Buddhist traditions.
Why does the Pope go to Mongolia? Why spend five days (two days traveling plus three days on site) visiting such a small group of Catholics? Is “geopolitics” included because it is a trip to a country bordering the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China? In fact, the pilgrimage to the countries on the periphery of Asia has no “geopolitical” motives, which does not define the papacy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
On Monday, November 30, 1970, Pope Paul VI undertook a long voyage, which reached as far as the Samoan Islands in the Pacific Ocean. During mass in the village of Leolumwega Twai, on the northwest coast of Upolu Island, he put aside the solemn “we” used by popes and said: “It is not the desire to travel or any personal interest that drives me.” I am going to visit you, for I am all brothers and sisters, or, in other words, you are my sons and daughters, and it is fitting that I, as the father of the family of the Catholic Church, show each of you my respect and love. Do you know what “Catholic Church” means? It means that the Church is for the whole world, that it belongs to all, and that it is nowhere alien. Every person, regardless of country, race, age, or education has a place in the Church.
The Church: a place for everyone. The Church, where the priority is not numbers, and where no one is a foreigner, regardless of language, culture, people or nation. It is the Church “for everything” – for everyone – as Pope Francis said in Lisbon. Less than a month after the visit, the Bishop of Rome was back on the road, telling his “brothers and sisters in Mongolia” that he was “happy with the journey and with you as a brother to all”.
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