Pope Francis will travel in early September to Mongolia – a country with few Catholic faithful but that is strategically significant for the Roman Catholic Church due to its proximity to China.
The Vatican announced the trip (31 August to 4 September) in a brief statement on Saturday, saying it was being made at the invitation of the country’s president and Catholic leaders. Details would be announced in the next few weeks, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
Last August, Francis named Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, an Italian, the first cardinal to be based in Mongolia, where he is the Catholic Church’s administrator.
Marengo was in Rome last month and met with the pope to discuss the trip.
Francis first spoke of the possibility of going to Mongolia in a conversation with reporters aboard the papal plane returning from a trip to Africa in February.
According to Fides, the news agency of the Vatican’s missionary activities, there are about 1,300 baptized Catholics in Mongolia among a population of about 3.3 million people.
The US State Department says about 60 percent of the population identifies as religious while the remainder has no religious identity.
Among those who express a religious identity, 87.1 percent identify as Buddhist, 5.4 pecent as Muslim, 4.2 percent as Shamanist, 2.2 percent as Christian, and 1.1 percent as followers of other religions.
Although the number of Catholics in Mongolia is smaller that most individual parish churches in many countries, the country is significant for the Vatican.
It has a long border and close ties with China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the situation of the estimated 12 million Catholics in the communist country.
The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951, but signed an accord in 2018 on the appointment of bishops.
Mongolia, once known as Outer Mongolia, was part of China until 1921, when it achieved independence with the help of the then Soviet Union. Inner Mongolia remained part of China. (RFI)