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Pioneer of Catholic Mission in Mongolia to meet Pope Francis

A priest from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), one of the pioneers of mission in Mongolia, is set to meet Pope Francis during the upcoming papal visit to the country.

CICM Father Gilbert B. Sales, now President of St. Louis University, Baguio, Philippines, is invited to join the entourage to meet the Pope.

"I am invited as one of the founders of the Catholic Mission in Mongolia," he told RVA News.

Father Sales was among the first three CICMs who 'revived' the Catholic mission in Mongolia two decades ago.

The CICM is a Catholic clerical religious congregation of the Pontifical Right for Men, established in 1862 by the Belgian Catholic priest Theophile Verbist.

The other two CICM pioneers are Father Robert Goessens, who is currently in Japan, and Bishop Wenceslao Selga Padilla from the Philippines, who was the first Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and died on September 15, 2018, and was buried over there.

Father Goessens is 94 years old and cannot travel anymore.

Father Sales has already arrived in Mongolia together with Father Rene Cabag, CICM, Vice Provincial from the Philippines. Father Charles Phukuta, Superior General of the CICM, is also joining them in Mongolia.

Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the global Church's youngest cardinal, and Father Phukuta invited Father Sales to meet Pope Francis during his visit to Mongolia, a vast Buddhist-majority nation.

When asked what his feelings were as he was about to meet Pope Francis in Mongolia as one of the pioneers of CICM, Father Sales said, "Excited and grateful."

Father Sales was a pioneering missionary for 14 years (1992–2005). Soon after his arrival in Ulaanbaatar on August 30, one of the things he did was visit the cemetery of Bishop Padilla, who was Father Sale’s companion in the mission.

"As we welcome the Pope in Mongolia, we remember our dear Bishop Wenceslao Selga Padilla, who, together with the pioneering team, started the mission in 1992. Bishop Padilla is dearly loved and sorely missed," said Father Sales after visiting the tomb of the prelate in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

The 86-year-old Francis is the first pope to reach Mongolia, which he says is at the heart of Asia. His visit to Mongolia ran from August 31 to September 4, with the theme "Hoping Together."

Mongolia is home to about 1,500 Catholics, according to the Church's 2020 census.

Catholics were spread over nine parishes. As many as 25 Catholic priests—five diocesan and 18 Religious priests, two of them Mongolian—and 33 nuns care for them, according to the Vatican.

Meetings with local Catholics and government and civil society officials will be the main points of the papal visit. Along with a Mass and the opening of a charity center, there will be an ecumenical and interfaith meeting.

Mongolia is a sizable landlocked nation situated between two superpowers—China and Russia. The country, a former communist state, still has strong diplomatic, political, and military relations with Russia, and China is its biggest trading partner. It is also one of the youngest democracies. Democracy has existed in this former Soviet satellite state since 1992. Mongolia is the only post-socialist democracy in Asia.

About 1,300 of the nation's more than 3.3 million residents identify as Catholic. About 52 percent of Mongolians identify as Buddhists, followed by 3 percent of Muslims, 2.5 percent of Shamanists, and 1.3 percent of Christians. And, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Factbook, 40.6 percent of people do not identify as having a particular religion.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.