In the country since 2003, Fr. Giorgio Marengo is a Consolata missionary in the steppes of Asia. He tells AsiaNews about the most important challenges for the local Church and the hopes of a community founded just over 20 years ago, that is growing “with prudence and confidence.” Social work and engagement with the people helping to insert the Gospel within a shamanic and Buddhist tradition. The desire to “build a bridge” to a world quite different from the West.
Arvaikheer (AsiaNews) – The most complicated challenge for a Catholic missionary in the steppes of Mongolia “is to empathize with the local population. The Mongols have a shamanic tradition, but also a strong adherence to Tibetan Buddhism. The most important thing, and which we find most difficult, is the ability to empathize with this complex reality. The moment we evangelizers succeed in doing this, is the moment we really begin to understand them and then give answers, then we can begin to build a bridge to the their universe. And in this way the sharing of our faith may be more understandable to them”. This is what Fr. Giorgio Marengo, a Consolata missionary who has lived in Arvaikheer since 2003 tells AsiaNews: the area is 400 kilometers from the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and in fact is an outpost of the Catholic mission in the country.
Fr. George says that in order to really get in touch with the Mongols and be able to present the Gospel to them “it is essential to be aware of the complexity of their way of seeing life, both earthly and spiritual. And in this way be able to insert the proclamation of Salvation in Christ. This means for us the missionaries, understanding their reality, a dimension that sometimes eludes us. This is not always easy for us to do”.
The Catholic Church in Mongolia was born just over 23 years ago, with the arrival (in 1992) of a small group of missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM, to read their story click here). Although still small in terms of numbers, according to Fr. Giorgio it “is doing well. It grows in small numbers and is always very careful not to give the impression of being a force that wants to destabilize the country. Here the Catholic reality – but also Christian – is a tiny minority, there are barely a thousand Catholics. The country has been isolated for a long time, and there is a law that protects religious freedom, but is also concerned about proselytizing. This is why we prfere to have a quiet, prudent presence”.
On the other hand, evangelization does not mean setting off fireworks: “First of all we do not want to arouse negative attention. But this prudence helps us to continue our mission here. I would say that this is a time of assimilation for the Mongolian Church. After the first years, when the first priests presented the Church also to distinguish themselves from other Christians, we are beginning to root. These are delicate years, even at a cultural level, for the permeation and assimilation of the Christian message”.
Public awareness of the faith is not very high, although “the figure of Pope Francis, from what I understand, is well known in civil society. He is not mentioned much in the papers: at the end of last year, when Times named him person of the year, the news was published in our newspapers. Even at particular moments they speak about the Pope, like when he went to South Korea for the Asian Youth day. But naturally, there is no news of the ordinary life of the universal Church”.
Fr. Giorgo’s own story is one of being “on the front line” in this rooting of Catholicism in the country: “I arrived here in 2003, and I moved from the capital to Arvaikheer in 2006. The nomadic tradition makes people curious of foreigners, so there was and there is a certain openness towards us, but it takes a long time to establish a relationship of trust. The Mongols are hospitable, but also very absorbed in their reality. We must move forward with small steps. ”
The “small steps” of these missionaries are also represented by their social work. Particularly the kindergarten they have set up: in a ger (traditional nomadic tent) “we host about 25 children aged 3 to 5 years. Then every afternoon in our mission in Arvaikheer we offer local children and young people a time and a space dedicated the study, drawing, homework, English class and recreation. We have a football field, basketball and volleyball courts. Every afternoon we offer them a snack or a hot meal before they return back to their homes”.
Then there is the “Women Project” involving about 30 people: “The idea came from our observation of family life: women, who are generally more reliable than men at work, are often forced to stay at home to watch the children and perform household chores in the ger. They cannot scrape together what little they may need to have a fixed salary. Many of the men are unemployed, however, so there are many cases in which both spouses do not work, with obvious negative consequences for the whole family. So we thought of focusing on the art of sewing and embroidery, which is already widely practiced, and for them to do the work directly in their ger, providing them with the material; when the work is finished they come to our center, where we buy what they have done (boxes, bags of various sizes, fabric items for the home), counting on the ability to resell these products, especially abroad, and thus obtain the necessary funds to manage the project and to support these poor families”.
Finally, “in at least two years we would like to open a center for interreligious dialogue and cultural research. ready-made company company structures Company formation We are waiting for a response, but we know that here time is relative. So we just have to have patience and wait”.