"The beginning of the mission in Mongolia was difficult, and the journey was tough sometimes, but the work of evangelization has flourished," said Father Gilbert B. Sales, a priest from the Philippines who had worked in Mongolia for 14 years as one of the three pioneers.
"The small but very enthusiastic Catholic flock is a testament to the work of the Lord in Mongolia," he added.
Father Sales, who is at present in Mongolia for Pope Francis’ visit to the country, August 31–September 4,
Speaking to RVA News from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, Father Sales, a member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), said that it was a very happy experience for him and all Mongolian Catholics with Pope Francis’ apostolic visit.
"My participation in a private mass was the highlight of my visit at this time of the Pope’s journey here in Mongolia. It is also an acknowledgment of our pioneering work in this vast land," Father Sales said. "Celebrating the Eucharist with the Pope is a form of thanksgiving to the Lord for all the blessings He has bestowed on this mission."
Father Sales was astounded by the sheer number of Catholics and non-Catholics gathered in anticipation of the Pope as he waited for him to arrive at the location for the Sunday Mass (on September 3).
"I was also especially struck by the message of the pope, taking as a symbol the Mongolian Ger, the traditional Mongolian felt tent."
According to Father Sales, "Ger is the source of peace, love, and compassion. It is where we feel the love of God passing through the light that comes from above. The Pope also emphasized that we belong to only one Ger (one house), and we nourish love and peace inside this common home we share."
Father Sales responded, "The Mongolian Catholic Church is slowly but surely growing," when asked if he was pleased to see how God is blessing the pioneers' missionary efforts and growing them right now.
"The theme of the Pope’s visit is ‘Hoping Together.’ May our small but very enthusiastic Catholic faithful be a sign of hope to one another, but especially to the whole Mongolian society," Father Sales added.
Bishops, priests, nuns, and lay believers from all of Asia were present during the papal visit to Mongolia, a country with a majority Buddhist population, which lasted four days.
"Even our Catholic faithful from Mainland China were well represented," Father Sales said.
As many as 30 people, including priests, nuns, and Catholic Cardinal John Tong Hon (Bishop Emeritus) and Cardinal elect Jesuit Bishop Stephen Chow Sau of Hong Kong, were present in Mongolia.
CICM Father Sales, now President of St. Louis University, Baguio, Philippines, was invited to join the entourage to meet the Pope as one of the founders of the Catholic Mission in Mongolia.
The priest 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 Belgian 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.
Cardinal Giorgio Marengo of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar and Father Charles Phukuta, Superior General of the CICM, invited Father Sales to meet Pope Francis during his visit to Mongolia.
Father Sales is to return to the Philippines on September 5.
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