A new catechesis program of the Church in Mongolia is promoting holistic formation of the human person as part of the evangelization of the central Asian nation.

"The course … is meant to form catechists with a working knowledge of the Scriptures, as well as the Church and its mission," Fr. Giorgio Marengo of the Consolata Missionaries, told CNA March 5.

The Prefecture Apostolic of Ulaanbaatar, which serves the entire country, has recently established a two-year long course in catechetical formation, giving a fundamental formation in theology and the life of the Church.

The formation program began in September; Fr. Marengo said it began with Christ's life and the significance of the Paschal mystery, and is currently discussing the sacraments.

More than 30 future catechesists, most of whom are in their 20s, are participating in the monthly program of formation, and they will become certified catechists in the prefecture once they have completed their formation.

Catechists play an important role in the evangelical mission of the Church, particularly in mission areas such as those served by prefectures.

Nearly 40 percent of Mongolians are non-religious; a little over half the population is Buddhist; and Christianity, Islam, and shamanism have mere footholds among the people.

The nation of 2.9 million has some 1,200 Catholics, 870 of whom are native Mongolians.

Mongolia's prefecture apostolic had five diocesan priests in 2010; it is also served by 12 religious congregations and fidei donum priests – those of other dioceses who are on loan to the prefecture; in total, there are more than 50 missionaries serving in the country.

Among the religious congregations is Fr. Marengo's Consolata Missionaries. They have been in Mongolia for 10 years, serving in the capital Ulan Bator and in Arvaikheeer, on the edge of the Gobi desert.

The first modern mission to Mongolia was in 1922 and was entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But under a communist government, religious expression was soon thereafter suppressed, until 1992.

In 2002, the Ulaanbaatar mission was elevated to the present prefecture apostolic. The mission's superior, Fr. Wenceslao Padilla, a priest of the Immaculate Heart congregation, was appointed prefect, and was consecrated a bishop the following year.