Schoolchildren eagerly wait for the pope’s arrival outside of the apostolic prefecture on Sept. 1, 2023, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where Pope Francis will be staying for the duration of his four-day visit to the country. | Credit: Colm Flynn/EWTN News
Pope Francis received an enthusiastic welcome to Mongolia on Friday morning after a nearly 10-hour flight on the papal plane.
Upon his arrival at Chinggis Khaan International Airport at 9:52 a.m. local time on Friday, Sept. 1, Pope Francis was greeted with a bowl of Aaruul, dried curds that are a traditional food of Mongolia’s nomadic peoples.
A Mongolian cell service provider sent out a public service text message to all of its users to inform them of the pope’s arrival. The message said: “The Roman pope is visiting Mongolia for the first time in our history. Let’s welcome him with kind nomadic hospitality and enjoy the precious moments together.”
The 86-year-old pope was rolled in his wheelchair down a long red carpet flanked by the Mongolian State Honor Guard, who saluted the first pope to ever visit the Asian country.
Cardinal Giorgio Marengo was one of the first to welcome Pope Francis to Mongolia. Marengo is an Italian cardinal who has served as a missionary in Mongolia for nearly 20 years. He is the current apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and the world’s youngest cardinal.
Mongolian Foreign Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh also met with the pope before the pope was taken to the Mongolian apostolic prefecture.
At the apostolic prefecture, where Pope Francis will be staying for the duration of the four-day trip, he was greeted with enthusiasm by representatives of Mongolia’s small Catholic community of only 1,450 Catholics.
Schoolchildren eagerly waited for the pope’s arrival outside of the prefecture, where Marengo resides. Some children performed traditional Mongolian dances for the pope and were excited to receive rosary beads as a gift.
After the welcome, Pope Francis spent his first day resting before his scheduled speeches and meetings on Saturday and Sunday.
Cardinals, visiting Catholics, and the Vatican press corps were invited to experience Mongolian culture at a “Besreg Naadam” festival 24 miles outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
The festival was filled with traditional Mongolian dancing, a wrestling tournament, musical performances, an archery competition, and a daring equestrian acrobatics show.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Cardinal Kurt Koch, Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow, and other visiting clerics all participated in the festival.
Pope Francis’ first public event will be a welcome ceremony in the city’s Sükhbaatar Square with President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh on Sept. 2. He will later meet with the country’s small Catholic community in the city’s Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in the afternoon.
Pope Francis told journalists in the press corps traveling with him that to visit Mongolia is to encounter “a small people, but a big culture.”
“I think it will do us good to understand this silence … to understand what it means, but not intellectually, with the senses. Mongolia can be understood with the senses,” the pope said.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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