Message From The Pope During His Visit To Mongolia: Believers Are United In A Peaceful Advent

An article by: Luciano Larivera

During his recent trip to Mongolia, Pope Francis, in his address to heads of state and at an ecumenical interreligious meeting, began a series of messages condemning the absence of a system of international multilateral and multipolar governance. Conflicts must be resolved peacefully, and social justice must be directed against corruption and attacks on human dignity.

If those responsible for nations chose the path of meetings and dialogue, they would make a significant contribution to ending conflicts

For Pope Francis, war is a “devilish thing,” and the Pontiff repeats this in every speech. But during the apostolic trip, the style of his speeches became different. A recent trip to Mongolia that took place between August 31 and September 4 was marked by a special event: On September 3, the Pope met with eleven representatives of other religions.
After the welcoming words of one high-ranking representative of Buddhism, who arrived from Tibet – let us recall that Buddhism is the main religion in Mongolia, where about 40% of the population consider themselves atheists – one of his co-religionists took the floor. This was followed by brief presentations from representatives of shamanism (a religion that was widespread in the Genghis Khan empire), Islam, the Mongolian Evangelical Alliance, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormons, with only one woman among them, representatives of Hinduism, Judaism, the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate – Patriarch Kirill once came to the Mongolian capital to consecrate the building of the parish church there. Then representatives of Japanese Shintoism and the Baha’i religion spoke. Pope Francis made the closing remarks. The Pontiff delivered his speech that lasted about 18 minutes, in Italian.
At the very beginning of his speech, the Pope recalled that “religious traditions, in their originality and diversity, represent an enormous potential for good placed in the service of society.” And then he came to the following conclusion: “If those who lead the countries chose the path of meeting and dialogue with others, they would undoubtedly make a decisive contribution to ending the conflicts that continue to bring suffering to so many people.”

Harmony is that special relationship, which is created between different realities, without superimposing one on another, without averaging them, but with respect for their differences

Then, referring to the “virtuous experience” of the ancient imperial capital of Mongolia, Kharakhorum, the Pontiff addressed all believers. In Kharakhorum, “there are places of worship belonging to different ‘faiths,’ indicating a praiseworthy harmony. Harmony, and I would like to especially emphasize, is a word with a typical Asian flavor. These are those special relationships that are established between different realities, without intersecting or averaging them, but respecting differences, in the name of a common shared existence. And I ask myself, who, if not believers, are called to work for universal harmony?”
Thus, “harmony,” which is measured by specific altruism, is synonymous with peace, but “perhaps the most suitable synonym for defining beauty.” On the contrary, “closeness, unilateral imposition of certain things, fundamentalism, and ideological coercion destroy brotherhood, inflame tension, and undermine peace.” Therefore, it is religions that are called upon to give the world this harmony: “to enrich humanity, which on its way is often disoriented by the myopic pursuit of profit and illusory well-being.”
In this sense, “Asia has much to offer to the world, and Mongolia, which lies at the very heart of this continent, holds a great legacy of wisdom that was created through the religious teachings widespread here.” And the Pope invites us to appreciate the so-called “ten aspects” of Mongolian wisdom: “Good relations with traditions, despite the temptations of consumerism; respect for elders and ancestors – how much we need today a union of generations between elders and youngsters, a dialogue between grandparents and grandchildren! And then – caring for the environment, our common home. This is another extremely urgent need: we are in danger. And one more: the value of silence and inner life, this spiritual antidote to many of the ills of today’s world. Then: a healthy sense of frugality; the value of hospitality; the ability to resist attachment to things; solidarity stemming from a culture of connections between people; recognition of simplicity. And finally, a certain existential pragmatism, inclined to persistently seek the good for man and society.”

You cannot mix faith with violence, holiness with imposition, the religious path with sectarianism

As other religious representatives had previously expressed, the Pontiff repeated and enriched his message with the symbol of the Mongolian yurt called “ger,” a round tent of nomadic Mongolian shepherds. “The ger actually represents a human space: it is a place for family life, for friendly communication, meetings and dialogue, where, even when a lot of people gather, everyone knows how to make room next to them for the other. And this is also a concise landmark, easily recognizable in the vastness of Mongolia, this is a reason for hope for those who have lost their way […]. But along with the human space, the ger yurt evokes the main thing in memory, namely openness to the divine. The spiritual dimension of this dwelling is represented by its upward opening, this single point from which light penetrates inside […]. Thus, human coexistence, taking place in this circular space, constantly returns to its mission, directed upward to heaven, to its transcendental and spiritual mission.
Next, the Pope called on all believers “not to confuse faith with violence, holiness with imposition, the religious path with sectarianism […]. This is true because in pluralistic societies that believe in democratic values, such as Mongolia, every religious institution, duly recognized by the civil authority, is not only obliged but primarily has the right to offer what it is and what it believes, respecting the conscience of others and having as our goal the common good.”
Here is what I would like to point out. The Pope does not claim that religious freedom, which is one of the fundamental human rights (like the right to freedom of conscience, as well as the right to be an atheist), is permitted and legitimate in the state only if the institutions of political power recognize such religious freedom. But the moment religions demand legal recognition of their institutions, they begin to carry responsibility to uphold such agreements in a civil society to credibly work for the common good.
The Pontiff then confirmed that “the Catholic Church wants to follow this path, firmly believing in ecumenical dialogue, interreligious dialogue, and dialogue of cultures.” And he immediately clarified what he meant by the word “dialogue.” Indeed, “he does not oppose himself to certain one-sided statements, he does not smooth out differences, but helps to understand them, preserves them in their originality and allows them to be compared with one another for candid and mutual enrichment.” Thus, through dialogue “one can find in humanity, blessed by Heaven, the key to its forward movement across the earth’s surface.”

It is no coincidence that a country located in the heart of Asia was chosen between two nuclear powers – the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China – which even fought for control of Mongolia

 Concluding his speech, the Pope repeated the motto of his entire apostolic trip to Mongolia: “Hope together.” In our world today, “torn by contradictions and disagreements, this may seem like a utopia. However, the greatest beginnings are born in secret, from tiny, almost imperceptible things. A great tree is born from a small seed hidden in the ground.”
These words were spoken because Francis bears responsibility at the international level both as a religious leader, a representative of a planetary religion with planetary responsibilities, and as the Head of a state that, despite its small size, is part of the most important international institutions, participates in multilateral forums and bilateral diplomatic relations. Therefore, not only the pastoral, but also the geopolitical significance of this apostolic visit of the Pope to Mongolia cannot be underestimated.
To better understand the depth of his words at the ecumenical and interreligious meeting, it is wise to relate them to the speech he gave a day earlier to representatives of the Mongolian authorities, Mongolian civil society, and the diplomatic corps. In Mongolia, as always, the Holy See repeated the very meaning, the core of all its diplomatic activities: protection and promotion of religious freedoms does not belong only to Christians. And this message was also addressed to Beijing and other Asian countries with great tact, modesty, prudence, and assurance.
First of all, the choice of a country in the very center of Asia and located between two nuclear powers such as the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, which even fought for control of Mongolia (and against Japanese intervention), is not accidental. The Pontiff could have postponed his trip sine die (indefinitely – ed.) due to his health, but in Mongolia he was able to recall (indirectly) the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which he included a strict prohibition on death execution, as well as the use of “nuclear deterrents.” And the full promotion of a culture of non-violence by all world religions clearly implies these two prohibitions.
The Pope noted that Mongolia, in fact, “with its vast network of diplomatic relations, active membership in the UN, commitment to human rights, and peace, plays an important role, both in the heart of the great Asian continent and in the wider international scenario. I would also like to commend your determination to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and present yourself to the world as a nuclear weapons-free country. Mongolia is not only a democratic state with a peaceful foreign policy, but also strives to play an important role in ensuring world peace. In addition, there is one more important element that should be mentioned: there is no longer the death penalty in your judicial system.” Underlying all of this is the conviction that in order to avoid nuclear escalation, an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine must be achieved.
In the same speech, Francis did not miss the opportunity to mention the historical epic of the great Mongol Empire. And this was done, of course, not in order to reconsider the essence of tribalism, nationalism, and imperialism (just as he condemns and challenges the concept of individualism), but to emphasize: “The extraordinary ability of your ancestors to recognize the strengths of other peoples who inhabited the vast territory of the then empire, and to put them at the service of general development. This is an example that should be appreciated and repeated today. God grant that today, the land devastated by numerous conflicts, will recreate the conditions of what once was pax mongolica, i.e. absence of conflicts, subject to compliance with international laws. As one of your proverbs says, ‘clouds pass, but the sky remains’: let the dark clouds of war go away for good now.” And we can say that now it is Russia and China that are the territorial and perhaps the ideal heirs of this historical era. It is these countries that are called upon to protect both their own and Mongolian citizens, and, along with other permanent members of the UN Security Council, to promote the renunciation of war to resolve political and economic conflicts, as well as to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In addition, the Pope, again citing Mongolia as an example, emphasized that it is necessary to use the “weapon of multilateral diplomacy,” and it must be used immediately and in all cases where this is unavoidable. Indeed, the war in Ukraine will end sooner and later (hopefully at least) thanks to political efforts. And religions have also always taken on diplomatic tasks (and not only informal tasks).
That is why, at the press conference that ended the trip, on the plane on the way back to Italy, the Pontiff, answering the question whether Ulaanbaatar could become a platform for international dialogue between Europe and Asia, answered, “I think so. You (Mongolia – ed.) have something very interesting that also favors such a dialogue. Let me call this the ‘third neighbor mystery,’ which forces you to continue the policy of such a ‘third neighbor.’ You believe that Ulaanbaatar is the capital of a country furthest from the sea, and we can say that your land is between two great powers, Russia and China. And therefore, your secret is to try to conduct a dialogue with the ‘third neighbors’: not out of disrespect for them and maybe not because you have good relations with both of them, but out of a desire for universality, for showing your values to the world, and also receiving their values from others, so that it leads you to dialogue.”
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning two more subjects close to the “geopolitics carried out by the Pope,” which are recalled by the symbolism of modern and traditional Mongolia. The first topic is the fight against corruption. In Mongolia, this was associated with the so-called “coal affair” in the winter of 2022-2023, with the waste of public funds and the secret export of fuel abroad, when public protests threatened all power in Ulaanbaatar. Therefore, the Pope, addressing not only those in power, but primarily the believers, declared, “Religions […], when they turn to their original spiritual heritage and are not corrupted by sectarian deviations, are in every sense a reliable support in the construction of healthy and prosperous societies where believers strive to ensure that civil coexistence and political planning increasingly serve the common good, and also represent a barrier to the spread of metastases of the dangerous corruption tumor. It poses a serious threat to the development of any community of people, fueled by a utilitarian and unprincipled mentality that leads to the impoverishment of entire countries and peoples.”

The second topic concerns environmental protection. In his speech, the Pope, without mentioning that the Mongolian capital holds the sad record of being the city with the worst air pollution in the world, said, “Your wisdom, the wisdom of your people, embedded in generations of prudent shepherds and farmers, always careful not to disturb the delicate balance of the ecosystem, can teach a lot to those who today do not want to isolate themselves in pursuit of short-sighted and temporary interests, but want to pass on to their descendants the land that is still hospitable, the land that is still abundantly fertile […]. The ‘ger’ yurts are dwellings that in today’s language can be called ‘smart’ and ‘green,’ since they are universal, multifunctional, and do not have negative impact on the environment. Moreover, the holistic vision of the Mongolian shamanic tradition and the respect for every living being inherent in Buddhist philosophy are a significant contribution to the urgent fulfillment of obligations to protect planet Earth.”
It is expected that Pope Francis’ next apostolic exhortation will not be without his denunciation of the lack of international, multilateral, and multipolar governance, so necessary for the search of  peaceful solutions and ending wars, for the development of social justice, for the fight against corruption, for ending crimes against human dignity, as well as for protecting the environment. The Pope’s Apostolic Letter will be published on October 4, 2023, in the liturgical feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. This Message will be an update of the second papal encyclical “Laudato si’,” which was published on June 18, 2015 and was dedicated to environmental issues and environmental protection. “Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Glorified be my Lord,” sang St. Francis of Assisi. The updated encyclical, as it was in Mongolia, will contain a powerful urge for the development and improvement of what we call “a comprehensive human ecology” and will announce actual hopes for a better future if we walk the paths of knowledge together: peoples and states.



Luciano Larivera