Catholic Church in Mongolia

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Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar

The Catholic Church in Mongolia is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. There are around 1,300 Catholics[1] in the country who are served by three churches in the capital Ulaanbaatar plus churches in Darkhan, Arvaikheer, Erdenet and mission stations that may grow into churches.

Catholicism was first introduced in the 13th century during the Mongol empire, but died out with the demise of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368. New missionary activity only set in after the Second Opium War in the mid-19th century. A mission was founded for Outer Mongolia, giving Mongolia its first Catholic jurisdiction, but all work ceased within a year when a communist regime came to power.

With the introduction of democracy in 1991, Catholic missionaries returned and rebuilt the church from scratch. As of 2016, there is an Apostolic Prefecture, a bishop, six churches, and diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Mongolia since 4 April 1992.


Christianity in Mongolia has ancient roots. Nestorianism had been practiced since the 7th century, and in the 13th century Western missionaries such as William Rubruck and Giovanni da Pian del Carpine and Armenian King Hethum I visited the region.[2] The leaders of the Mongol Empire were traditionally tolerant of many religions, through Christianity was a key religious influence, primarily through the wives of the Mongolian khans, women from the Church of the East Keraites. John of Montecorvino was a key missionary to Mongol-controlled China during the Yuan Dynasty, translating the New Testament and the Psalms into the Mongol tongue, founding the first Catholic mission in Beijing and becoming its first bishop.[3]

Technically Mongolia had been covered by the diocese of Peking, and it was not until 1840, when a Vicariate Apostolic was divided from Beijing, that Mongolia had its own Catholic jurisdiction.[4] In 1883, a vicariate for Inner Mongolia was created and then a mission was created for Outer Mongolia in 1922.[5] Freedom of thought and religion were not permitted under communist rule.[6]

Mission sui iuris (1991–2003)[edit]

The new Mongolian Constitution of 1992 guaranteed religious liberty, and missionaries were sent to reconstitute the church. Missionhurst (the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) sent priests Fathers Wenceslao Padilla, Gilbert Sales and Robert Goessens to accomplish this mission once the Vatican had established diplomatic relations with Mongolia. Previous to their arrival, expatriates had been attending Protestant services. Initially, none of the missionaries knew Mongolian, none of the native peoples knew English, and there were no Catholic liturgical texts printed in Mongolian.[7] The first Masses were held in rented apartments and consisted of foreigners working for embassies and foreign aid organizations.[8]

By 1996, Father Wenceslao Padilla and 150 parishioners were on hand at the dedication of the first Catholic Church in Mongolian history.[9] In 1997 the first papal nuncio to Mongolia from the Holy See was named.[10] The new Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar is shaped like a traditional ger, with its circular tent shape and walls of thick felt.[11] Fr Wenceslao Padilla was consecrated as the first Bishop of Mongolia on 29 August, 2003 in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar.

Prefecture Apostolic (2003–present)[edit]

On 23 August 2003, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe (head of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) arrived and consecrated Father Padilla as the first bishop of Mongolia, although the country is not yet a diocese. Pope John Paul II apologized for being unable to attend the opening himself, as he had been planning to visit Mongolia, a first for a pope.[12] He had originally been invited by the President of Mongolia during his visit to the Vatican in 2000.[13] There are now 54 missionaries from various countries helping to build up the church, and 3 functioning parishes. The flocking of Christian missionaries has been notable since the fall of communism,[14] and Catholicism grew from no adherents in 1991 to over 600 in 2006, including about 350 native Mongolians.[15]

A Mongolian version of the Catholic catechism was printed in mid-2004; it is done in traditional Mongolian writing style and includes common Catholic prayers.[16] The mission runs a kindergarten, English classes, a technical school, soup kitchens, two farms, and a care center for 120 disabled children.[17] Another course offered is how to deal with anger management, in order to help uproot domestic violence.[18] The Verbist Center has taken in 120 street children who had previously been living in Ulaanbaatar's sewer system.[19] Christmas is not a national holiday in Mongolia, as the proportion of the population that is Christian is very low.[20] A fourth parish was founded in 2007 in Darkhan, Mongolia's second-largest city.[21] The first Catholic grotto in Mongolia was dedicated in 2008.[22] Joseph Enkh Baatar became the first Mongolian Catholic to join a seminary for the priesthood in 2008.[23] He was ordained as the first Mongolian deacon in December 2014,[24] and as the first Mongolian priest on 27 August 2016. More than 1,500 people attended the ordination Mass, including nearly 100 priests from South Korea, dignitaries of foreign embassies, those from local Orthodox churches, and Buddhist monks. [25] As of 2016 there were three seminarians for Mongolia studying in Daejeong, South Korea. [26]

Bishop Wenceslao Padilla died on 25 September, 2018 after twenty-six years of service in Mongolia, fifteen of them as bishop. As of October 2018, no announcement had been made by Pope Francis of a new bishop for Mongolia.

Legal restrictions[edit]

People under the age of 16 can only receive catechesis with written parental consent and professions of faith are only allowed in church buildings. Priests may not dress in clerical clothing in public.[8]


  1. ^ "Mongolia: Youngest church on Earth turns 25". National Catholic Register. 14 September 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  2. ^ Morris Rossabi (28 November 2014). From Yuan to Modern China and Mongolia: The Writings of Morris Rossabi. BRILL. pp. 670–. ISBN 978-90-04-28529-3.
  3. ^ "First parish assembly held on missions". February 5, 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  4. ^ Cordier, Henri (1911). "Mongolia". Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. X. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  5. ^ Tande, Claes (July 15, 2002). "Mongolia:Chronology of Catholic Diocese". Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  6. ^ "My art is at the service of God, convert says published". November 29, 2004. Archived from the original on 2005-01-15. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  7. ^ "Catholic Church Mission". Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2016-02-21.
  8. ^ a b "Mongolian bishop details steady growth of local Church". Catholic News Agency. 2014-05-22. Retrieved 2016-02-21.
  9. ^ "First Catholic Church Opens In Mongolia". Catholic World News. May 27, 1996. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  10. ^ "Mongolia Gets New Papal Nuncio". Zenit News Agency. June 17, 2004. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  11. ^ O’Brien, Ellen. "The Catholic Church in Mongolia: Small, desperately poor, but they love God - and Smarty Jones". The Catholic Standard and Times. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  12. ^ "Pope sends regrets for not visiting Mongolia". Catholic World News. August 29, 2003. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  13. ^ Simpson, Victor L. (July 8, 2003). "VATICAN CITY:Pope trip to Mongolia dropped". Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  14. ^ Dalziel, Elizabeth (September 25, 2005). "Christian missionaries flocking to newly open Mongolia". Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  15. ^ Padilla, Wens S. (October 2004). "Apostolic Prefecture of the Catholic Church Mission in Mongolia". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  16. ^ "First modern Mongolian editions of Catholic catechism and prayer book published". April 6, 2004. Archived from the original on 2005-01-15. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  17. ^ Jewell, Jim (January 18, 2005). "Children Huddled in Crevices". Christianity Today. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  18. ^ "Containing violence by learning to talk within the family". Asia July 29, 2004. Retrieved 2016-02-23.
  19. ^ Balsamo, William M. (2000). "Verbist Care Center in Mongolia Helps Street Children in Ulan Bator". Christianity Today. Archived from the original on 2004-10-26. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  20. ^ "No holiday, but Mongolia's Catholics prepare for Christmas celebration". Fides. December 18, 2003. Retrieved 2006-06-12.
  21. ^ "Catholic Church celebrates 15 years in Mongolia; sets plans for future". Mongolia Web News. February 5, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-02-07. Retrieved 2008-03-03.
  22. ^ "New Marian Grotto Built With Rocks Contributed By Parishioners". UCA News. October 30, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  23. ^ "MONGOLIA Fledging Church Cautious About Priestly Vocations". Union of Catholic Asian News. September 19, 2008. Archived from the original on October 18, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  24. ^ "Mongolia: Church is betting on the laity". Vatican Insider: La Stampa. 2015-07-04. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  25. ^ Antonio Anup Gonsalves (August 30, 2016). "This is Mongolia's first native priest: Father Joseph Enkh Baatar".
  26. ^ Inés San Martín (August 30, 2016). "Mongolia ordains its first indigenous Catholic priest". Retrieved August 31, 2016.

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