VATICAN CITY, JULY 8, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II consolidated the birth of the Church in Mongolia, one of the countries in the world with the fewest number of Catholics, by establishing an apostolic prefecture.
The prefecture is the first step in the organization of an ecclesiastical hierarchy in a specific territory.
To date, the Church structure was the mission “sui iuris” (of its own right) of Urga, now Ulan-Bator, entrusted to the missionaries of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CIHM).
Mongolia’s Catholic community numbers only about 100 people, up from virtually none a decade ago. Four CIHM priests work in the country, as well as two Fidei Donum priests from South Korea. Six Salesian religious, who will open a vocational center, are expected in the near future.
Also present are five women CIHM missionaries, four Missionaries of Charity, and four religious of the Congregation of St. Paul of Chartres.
The Pope appointed Immaculate Heart of Mary Father Filipino Wens Padilla as first apostolic prefect of Ulan-Bator. Until now Father Padilla was superior of the mission “sui iuris.”
The Alaska-size nation in northern Asia has a population of about 3 million.
The Holy See assigned the pastoral care of Mongolia to the CIHM missionaries as early as 1921. But they could not go there because the following year Mongolia was involved in the Soviet revolution, “falling inexorably under the control of Moscow,” a Vatican press statement explained today.
“For more than 70 years Mongolia maintained nominal independence as, in fact, it depended for everything on Moscow. The Catholic Church was removed from that land,” the Vatican note continues.
“In 1991, immediately after the fall of the Soviet empire, the government of Ulan-Bator requested the Holy See to send Catholic missionaries and to establish diplomatic relations,” the statement adds.
This is how the CIHM missionaries were able to carry out the papal pastoral request made to them 70 years earlier. When the first religious arrived, they found no Christian communities.
“The fervor of the ecclesial action undertaken and the increase in the number of local Catholics give hope for the future,” the Vatican note concludes.