A sign of hope: a chapel was established in June, thanks to the apostolate of a priest who until recently only had a community of three faithful.
Mongolia is one of the least populated countries in the world. A land of deserts, steppes, and mountains, Mongolia is three times the size of France, with a population of under three million people. It is also a country that has experienced major social upheavals, especially since 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union.
When their independence was declared, only 27% of the Mongols were living in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Today, almost half the population lives in Ulaanbaatar, and about 40,000 more people move there every year.
Christians, all confessions included, represent only a little over 2% of the population: most of the inhabitants follow the practices of Tibetan Buddhism, with a mixture of shamanic beliefs.
The Catholic Church in Mongolia suffered greatly at the hands of the Communist dictatorship. When the regime collapsed in 1991, official statistics indicated that there were simply no Catholics in the country. In 1992, the Fathers of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came from the Philippines and changed that state of affairs.
But the Church’s situation is anything but simple, since like any other religious organization, she has to renew her registration every year, a process that is always long and unpredictable…
One of the most restrictive conditions that applies to all foreign organizations present in Mongolia —including the Catholic Church— is the obligation of including a minimum percentage of Mongolian employees in their staff. The Catholic Church remains an exception, for unlike almost all other religious organizations that have the status of non-governmental organizations and 95% of whose staff must be native employees, it obtained permission for a minimum of 75%.
In this very restrictive context, a new parish was just established on June 11, on the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. The Church of Divine Mercy in Erdenet, about 150 miles the north of Ulaanbaatar, was blessed by the Apostolic Prefect, Bishop Wenceslao Padilla. It is one of three new parishes to be created for the 25th anniversary of the Catholic presence in Mongolia.
The community of the Divine Mercy parish was born in 2013, when a Congolese missionary, Fr. Prosper Mbumba, of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, began saying Mass for…only three baptized Catholics then living in the city!
The goal was to accompany these persons in their faith, and not “leave them like sheep without a shepherd,” declared the priest, who at the time was in charge of a preschool for disadvantaged children, run by his Congregation since 2002.
“At that time,” Fr. Prosper Mbumba told Fides, “once a month I celebrated Mass for three Catholics. I remember that once I was accompanied by a few confreres and so we priests outnumbered the faithful in the congregation. In 2013 on Christmas Eve I celebrated Mass with two people and the next day, Christmas Day, there were three.”
“Gradually,” he continued, “the community began to grow, because the three lay faithful started bringing friends, relations and neighbors. Since 2015 the community has been gathering every Sunday and we had the idea of requesting institutional recognition. In 2016, the Holy Year of Mercy, the local government granted legal status – which is necessary – for this Catholic community. This is why our community decided to take as its name and holy patron Divine Mercy.
Fr. Prosper Mbumba is now the first parish priest, and on the occasion of that celebration, a new member, an adult, was baptized and received the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The parish has already celebrated six baptisms and a marriage, and many young people and adults are attending catechism classes. “The Catholic Church in Mongolia, with its 1,300 baptized Catholics and a native priest, looks forward to the future with confidence,” Fr. Mbumba concluded.
May these Catholics one day discover the true Mass and all the treasures of Tradition!