Talking Mission - Cardinal Marengo

Can you share a little bit about the context of the Church in Mongolia?

When I first arrived, it was a vivid image of what the Church in its initial stages might have looked like. This is because we have a long history, which we cherish with joy and gratitude. We know that Christianity was present as far back as the 9th century, when, along the Silk Road, the Gospel was whispered in many ways. We know from archaeological and historical findings that a number of Mongolians embraced the Christian faith even at that time. However, for several historical and cultural reasons, the formal arrival of the Catholic Church was not until 1992. Thus, we technically have 31 years of history. Plus, there are more than 1000 years of Christianity's roots in Mongolia. Due to the specific circumstances under which the first missionaries arrived after the fall of communism, our Catholic community is still relatively small. It has taken us considerable time, and even today, it remains one of our priorities to build strong relationships with the local authorities and society at large, considering the various phases this society has undergone. But since the 1990s, the situation has changed quite rapidly, especially around the years 2000 and 2005. Today, Mongolia is a very stable country with a strong tradition of democracy, in which the Catholic Church tries its best to play its role in promoting peace and harmony and development for all the people.

When you first arrive to Mongolia, what were have first impressions of the country and its people?

My first impressions were colourful because upon my arrival, I was reading the diary of William Rubruck, one of the Western world's first envoys to Mongolia. He was a Franciscan Friar who reached Mongolia in the 13th century, shortly after the first-ever visit by a Catholic priest, Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, also known as John of Plano Carpini, an Italian Franciscan. Both left fascinating diaries detailing their travels in Mongolia. Upon my arrival, I discovered descriptions in their writings that matched exactly what I was seeing with my own eyes: ‘another world’. The diversity and beauty made a strong impression on me, so I immersed myself fully in that beauty and diversity. I endeavoured to learn the language, study their history, customs, and traditions, and integrate into this new reality with my missionary zeal. As a Consolata Missionary from a society of Foreign Missions we spend our training period really trying our best to listen to reality and to deepen our knowledge of the people with whom we share our lives. So, it was a great impression of another world that needed to be known, loved and prayed for.

In the 20 years or so since you have been here, how have those impressions changed or crystallised, and what challenges have you encountered that may have impacted those impressions?

In the 20 years of my presence in Mongolia, which I consider a grace from the Lord, I can say that not only has my knowledge expanded, but so has my thirst for learning more. Delving into another culture and country with its rich spiritual and cultural heritage is an unending journey. It’s the array of experiences I’ve had over these years that has deepened my empathy towards this reality, alongside an ever-growing desire to learn more. When asked how long I’ve studied the language, I respond that I started but never truly finished. I’m still learning; it’s an ongoing process. The deeper I immerse myself in this reality, the more captivating I find it. Of course, this comes with challenges linked to my own weaknesses and difficulties in fully understanding certain aspects, not to mention the mystery that each person embodies. I’m wary of overgeneralisation when describing a nation, a country, or its people. While we may hold general ideas, it’s always precarious to label a country with a few adjectives that might not truly reflect its reality. What we need is human understanding and humility.

What is your vision for Mongolian Church and what do you want your legacy to be here?

When we discuss a vision or a legacy we wish to leave in this country, we invariably return to the ethos of the first Christian communities and their commitment to living out gospel values. Displaying courage in our convictions is perhaps the most potent witness we can offer to this country. It's essential for the Catholic Church to deepen its roots within this society. A key concept I often refer to when discussing the Church’s depth is the importance of having individuals who are content with their decision to become Catholic and who are capable of engaging in dialogue with the wider society. To achieve this, we need depth and a profound level of spirituality. Individuals who dedicate themselves to prayer and find fulfilment in their religious beliefs are those who contribute significantly to the growth of any country. I envision the Catholic Church in Mongolia as tiny seeds in the Mongolian steppes, aiding society’s development and growth. This can also help foster the understanding that Gospel values are universal and open to all cultures and traditions. The Catholic Church is not an external entity that has arrived here and remains distant from those of Mongolian heritage. Through the positive example of our community, I hope there will be a sense of identification with Gospel values, aiding the Church in building bridges with the rest of society.

Join Us in Conversation with Cardinal Marengo

Catholic Mission is delighted to host an enriching and inspiring event this June with a distinguished guest, His Eminence Cardinal Giorgio Marengo I.M.C., Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar and Cardinal of Mongolia.

Book Your Seat Today!