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Pope joins shamans, monks and evangelicals in highlighting Mongolia’s religious diversity and harmony

ULAN-BAATAR, Mongolia — Against the backdrop of the crackdown on religious minorities in China, Pope Francis on Sunday joined Mongolian shamans, Buddhist monks and a Russian Orthodox priest to highlight the role religions can play in building peace as he chaired an interfaith meeting highlighting Mongolia’s tradition of religious tolerance. .

Francis listened intently to a dozen religious leaders – among them Jews, Muslims, Baha’i, Hindus, Shinto and evangelical Christians – describe their beliefs and their relationship with heaven. Many have said that the traditional Mongolian yurt, or round-shaped yurt, is a powerful symbol of harmony with the divine: a warm place of family unity, open to the sky, where strangers are welcome.

The interfaith event, held at a theater in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, came halfway through Francis’ four-day visit to Mongolia, the first by a pope. He is in Mongolia to minister to one of the world’s smallest and newest Catholic communities and to highlight Mongolia’s tradition of tolerance in a region where the Holy See’s relations with China and Russia neighbors are often tense.

According to statistics from the Catholic non-profit group Aid to the Church in Need, Mongolia is 53% Buddhist, 39% atheist, 3% Muslim, 3% shaman and 2% Christian.

Later on Sunday, Francis was due to preside over a Mass in the capital’s sports stadium which the Vatican said pilgrims from China would also attend. A small group of Chinese devotees from Xinjiang attended its meeting at the city’s cathedral on Saturday. They waved a Chinese flag and chanted “All Chinese people love you” as his car drove by.

The Vatican’s rocky relationship with China and Beijing’s crackdown on religious minorities have been a constant backdrop to the trip, though the Vatican hopes to focus its attention on Mongolia and its 1,450 Catholics instead. It is believed that no bishops from mainland China were allowed to visit Mongolia, while at least two dozen bishops from other Asian countries accompanied the pilgrims on these events.

Hong Kong Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow attended and accompanied 40 pilgrims to Mongolia, saying it was an event highlighting the reach of the universal Church. He declined to discuss the absence of his mainland Chinese counterparts, focusing instead on Francis and the significance of his visit to Mongolia for the Asian Church.

“I think the Asian Church is also a growing Church. Not as fast as Africa – Africa is growing rapidly – ​​but the Asian Church also has a very important role to play now in the universal Church,” he told reporters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has demanded that Catholicism and all other religions strictly adhere to party guidelines and undergo “sinicization”. In the vast region of Xinjiang, this has led to the demolition of an unknown number of mosques, but in most cases this has resulted in the removal of domes, minarets and exterior crosses from churches.

The Vatican and China signed an agreement in 2018 on the thorny issue of appointments of Catholic bishops, but Beijing violated it.


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


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