An article by: Banzragchiin Delgermaa

Pope Francis' apostolic visit to Mongolia was an outstanding event in that country's recent history. A diplomat and former Ambassador of Mongolia to the Russian Federation, Banzragch Delgermaa, shares with Pluralia's readers the feelings of the Mongolian people and thinks about the development prospects that the Holy Father's visit has opened for this Asian country.

Few States in the world like the Vatican are as rich in stories and traditions that go back to the roots of human history.

Pope Francis’s state visit to Mongolia took place from August 31 to September 4, 2023. This apostolic visit is the first since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries over the past thirty years. Mongolia, which, as a result of democratic reforms and the adoption of a new Constitution, established diplomatic relations with many countries of the world in the Early Nineties, including the Vatican, received a visit from Pope as a significant event in the country’s history.
In the modern world, there are more than 200 countries, of which only a few are rich in their histories and traditions that go back deep into history of mankind. One of these states is the Vatican. In the modern world, for many developing countries, including our country, the main indicators of cooperation are the volume of foreign investment, trade and economic relations, and others, but the Vatican is an exception. Here it is more appropriate to note the priority of the development of cultural relations, the exchange of spiritual values, especially that from a historical perspective, these relations were established much earlier, during the heyday of the Mongol Empire.

Pope Francis after Mass also greeted the “noble Chinese people” and called on Chinese Catholics to “be good Christians and good citizens”

The program of Pope Francis was intense, so during the days of his stay in our country, the Holy Father met with the political and religious leaders of Mongolia; there was a meeting with the public, with the clergy of various faiths, with the cardinal and Catholics who arrived from many Asian countries. The meeting took place in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ulaanbaatar, and also in one of the most capacious buildings in the capital, the Stepp Arena ice sports palace. The Pope Francis took part in a prayer of thanksgiving and praise that brought together bishops, priests, monks, and about 3 thousand believers. The KNA agency noted the Holy Father’s address to the people of China and the Catholics from China who participated in the Mass and emphasized that at the end of the service, Pope Francis invited two bishops from Hong Kong to the altar and addressed the people of China, digressing from the script of the Mass, the agency writes. The Holy Father greeted the “noble Chinese people” and called on Chinese Catholics to “be good Christians and good citizens,” KNA writes. Flying over China, the head of the Roman Catholic Church sent a message of greetings to President Xi Jinping. Speaking to reporters aboard his plane, he said that “the channels of communication are open” and recalled the successful appointment of bishops thanks to a joint commission working with the Chinese government and the Vatican.
As part of his apostolic visit, Pope Francis met with the President of Mongolia Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh and presented him as a gift the official copy of a letter from the third Khan of the Great Mongol Empire, Guyuk, which dates back to 1246. The original letter in Old Mongolian language with the seal of the khan, addressed to Pope Innocent IV in response to a message conveyed by priest John Plano Carpini during a visit to the Mongol Empire, is kept in the Vatican Apostolic Archives.
“Let this gift serve as a symbol of friendly relations, which are increasingly expanding today,” the Pope Francis said, as quoted by the Monzame news agency.

Many hundreds of journalists from around the world provided media coverage of the pontiff’s visit

Holy Father received the Speaker of the Mongolian Parliament Gombojavyn Zandanshatar and Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erdene. He also met with the Hambo Lama of the main Buddhist monastery Gandantegchenling, the head of the Association of Buddhists of Mongolia Demberiliin Choizhamts, and other representatives of various religious organizations operating in Mongolia, during which the head of the Vatican noted, “The Mongolian people, with a great ancient history of creating conditions for the peaceful coexistence of different religious traditions, today provide us with the opportunity to be together and learn more about each other.”
The apostolic visit of the head of the State of Vatican attracted enormous attention from the world press. 150 journalists from 23 countries and 56 editorial offices, including very influential mass media, such as the Associated Press, New York Times, Reuters, as well as numerous journalists from Italy, Spain, and, of course, from Mongolia, who were represented by 180 journalists and press workers, were covering this hallmark event.

The basic reasons for Pope Francis’ visit to Mongolia

The Mongolian and international observers noted the following three main reasons for Pope Francis’s visit to Mongolia.

Firstly, geopolitical interests. Undoubtedly, a visit to a country that neighbors only two countries – the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China – has a strategic content. The ongoing armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, tense dialogues between China and the Vatican, and Mongolia that is in a neutral position could become a platform for the world spiritual leader. However, the impact of the visit on the two countries cannot be predicted.
Secondly, Mongolian people. After the collapse of the USSR and the bloc of socialist countries, Mongolia gained political independence, restored its economy, and became a country with democratic rule. However, after 30 years of revival, the country with rich natural resources, due to the decline in the growth of the mining industry, the rising distrust of citizens in democracy, and the corroding society of corruption, the country is at a crossroad. All these factors, coupled with the greater influence of neighboring countries, cause a growing trend towards a revival of the authoritarian regime. In this regard, the speech of Pope Francis during official meetings at the highest level touched upon such pressing issues of Mongolian society as overcoming the dominant party influence in all spheres of society, the ethics of civil society and the promotion of fair social policies, the balance of distribution of power and the fight against corruption.
Thirdly, “our home.” The focus of Pope Francis’s policies has always been the fight against poverty. However, Mongolia is a country that does not fall into this category. All countries were not initially poor and backward. Poverty comes from a flawed social mechanism. Mongolia is very rich in natural resources that are of interest to conglomerates from Russia, China, and Australia. After several decades of post-war development in Europe, Mongolia faced the same crisis of the natural environment, which may in the future affect the entire ecosystem of Europe and Asia. In this regard, the visit of Pope Francis also includes this program – to love and protect planet Earth.
Pope Francis had a very good reasons to visit Mongolia. The geographical location and unique history of this country will allow it to play a leading role in the geopolitical and environmental challenges of our era. For international dialogue on global warming, national sovereignty, globalization of the economy, our second lungs must be healthy and strong. Along with this, it is necessary for the Mongolian authorities to change their attitude towards Catholic organizations and individuals in order to enhance further mutual understanding and cooperation. This is how the world press assessed Pope Francis’s visit to our country.


The policies of the “Third Neighbor”

Summing up the visit of the Holy Father to Mongolia, I would like to note that we, Mongols, have been distinguished by religious tolerance since ancient times, which distinguished the Mongolian state from many empires. The establishment of peace for almost 500 years in the vast Eurasian space, “Pax Mongolica,” was the result of a policy of tolerance towards other religions, and all world religions were represented in the capital of the then Mongolian Empire, Kharakhorum, all faiths coexisted peacefully, and none of the Mongolian rulers started a single war on religious grounds. From this historical perspective, Pope Francis’s visit was perceived as an expression of peace and tolerance, the human right to freedom of religion. This visit is all the more important from a geopolitical position, since Mongolia is geographically located between, on one side, the PRC, which does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican and has cases of ban and persecution of Catholic minorities, and on the other side, the Russian Federation, where the political situation related to the armed conflict in Ukraine makes every person not only in our country, but throughout the world think about solving this problem that has resulted in problems with the supply of grain and food to needy countries, with security, ecology, energy crisis, and other consequences, makes us think about how fragile our planet is and how priceless human life is.
Since the Nineties of the last Century, when Mongolia began to pursue a foreign policy based on the concept of good neighborly relations and strategic partnership with two neighbors – the PRC and the Russian Federation – there is also a clear focus on the “Third Neighbor” that is, countries with democratic governance, developed economies, and traditional friendly relations. These “Third Neighbors” include the EU countries, Japan, India, South Korea, ASEAN countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, and many others. The state visit of the head of the Vatican, Pope Francis, representing the world’s two billion Christian Catholics, to Mongolia, which is represented mostly by Buddhists and the smallest number of practicing Catholics, undoubtedly showed our spiritual connection and responsibility for religious freedom and the desire for peace on earth.
Saying goodbye to Mongolia, the great and at the same time simple man Pope Francis wrote on the social network “X” (ex Twitter) on board his plane, “Dear brothers and sisters of Mongolia, thank you for giving me friendship. You will always be in my soul. Please keep me in your hearts and prayers.”



Banzragchiin Delgermaa