Pope Sends Greeting as Mongolia Gets Its First Bishop

Salutes a «Little Flock» in a Big Land

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II encouraged the rebirth of the Catholic Church in Mongolia, sending a letter on the occasion of the ordination of the country’s first bishop and the blessing of a cathedral.

The letter is addressed to Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who has been a papal representative in the Asian country this week.

In the capital, Ulan Bator, Cardinal Sepe today ordained the first apostolic prefect, Father Wenceslaw Padilla, a Filipino religious of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In his message, the Pope said he «would dearly have liked to be present in person for these significant and historic liturgical celebrations,» but, unable to do so, entrusts to the cardinal the task of greeting the Mongolian people.

The appointment of the first bishop and the inauguration of the cathedral in the capital are events that «consolidate the spiritual edifice being built up by the ‘little flock’ of a young missionary Church which is growing in confidence, sustained by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit,» the Pope said.

Last February, the apostolic nuncio in Mongolia, Archbishop Giovanni Battista Morandini, announced that the Holy Father wished to visit the Alaska-size country situated between Russia and China.

In July, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls confirmed the government’s invitation, but said the Pope had to postpone this visit, planned initially for August, and gave no concrete dates for the possible trip.

The Pontiff ended his letter by greeting the close to 200 Catholics of Mongolia. The Catholic community was reborn after the collapse of the Communist regime in the early 1990s.

John Paul II also greeted the authorities and the country’s 2.6 million inhabitants, 96% of whom are Buddhists, and most of the rest Muslims.

There is only one parish in Mongolia. Nine priests and 17 women religious (including Missionaries of Charity) serve the community. There are also five educational centers and a welfare institute. This past year, 20 new Catholics were baptized.

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