Pope in Mongolia: May religions cultivate dialogue, harmony, hope
Presiding over an ecumenical and interreligious event in Mongolia, Pope Francis insists that religions have a great responsibility, and encourages religious leaders to pursue dialogue and harmony while avoiding scandal.
On Sunday, Pope Francis presided over an ecumenical and interreligious event in Mongolia's iconic Hun Theatre, in the nation's capital of Ulaanbaatar, in which representatives of Shintoism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Shamanism, and other Christian confessions took part.
Government observers and representatives of universities were also present at the meeting promoting peaceful coexistence, a highlight of the Pope's visit to Mongolia from 31 August to 4 September.
The visit marks the Holy Father’s 43rd Apostolic Journey and the 61st country he has visited since the start of his papacy. While Pope Saint John Paul II had longed to visit the country, he was not able to, making Pope Francis the first Pope to ever visit Mongolia.
He has been visiting the Asian nation bordering Russia and China to show his closeness to the country's some 1,500 Catholic faithful, 90 percent of whom live in the nation's capital. This visit, however, as all those that have taken place since late February 2022, is undertaken against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
At this interreligious and ecumenical event, the Holy Father's message insisted that hope is possible and that harmony among religions has the power to bear great fruits. He also warned against distortions of religion, in ways that cause scandal, violence, or oppression.
Patrimony of wisdom
In a special way, the Pope praised Mongolia's patrimony of wisdom that its various religions have helped to create, noting he would "limit himself" to exploring ten aspects.
The Pope first recalled its "healthy relationship to tradition," despite the temptations of consumerism, and praised its respect for their elders and ancestors, underscoring "how greatly today do we need a generational covenant between old and the young!"
Pope Francis commended the Mongolian care for the environment, a "great and pressing need"; the value of silence and the interior life, "as a spiritual antidote to so many ills in today’s world"; "a healthy sense of frugality"; "the value of hospitality"; "the ability to resist attachment to material objects"; "the solidarity born of a culture of interpersonal bonds"; and, "respect for simplicity."
This patrimony, said the Pope, promotes "a certain existential pragmatism that tenaciously pursues the good of individuals and of the community," as he observed that these characteristics enrich the world.
Great responsibility of followers of religion
The Pope went on to underscore the great responsibility of followers of religion to promote peace and harmony.
"The reconciled and prosperous humanity that we, as followers of different religions, seek to promote," he said, is symbolized by this harmony, togetherness and openness to the transcendent," which, he maintained, "inspires a commitment to justice and peace," grounded in religious people's relationship to the divine.
"In this sense, dear brothers and sisters, we share a great responsibility, especially in this period of history, for we are called to testify to the teachings we profess by the way we act; we must not contradict them and thus become a cause of scandal."
"There can be no mixing, then," the Pope insisted, "of religious beliefs and violence, of holiness and oppression, of religious traditions and sectarianism."
“There can be no mixing of religious beliefs and violence, of holiness and oppression, of religious traditions and sectarianism.”
The Holy Father expressed his hope that past suffering, as he recalled in a special way that of Buddhist communities, "bestow the strength needed to transform dark wounds into sources of light, senseless violence into wisdom of life, devastating evil into constructive goodness."
May these experiences, Pope Francis noted, drive all committed followers of their respective spirituality and teachings, to be "ever ready" to offer "the beauty of those teachings to those whom we daily encounter as friends and companions on our journey."
The Holy Father reminded Mongolia's religious institutions of their important role in promoting the greater good.
"For in a pluralistic society committed to democratic values, such as Mongolia is, every religious institution, duly recognized by civil authority, has the duty, and above all the right, to freely express what it is and what it believes, in a way respectful of the conscience of others and in view of the greater good of all."
Importance of dialogue, respect
The Pope reassured those before him that the Catholic Church desires to follow this path of working together, firmly convinced of the importance of ecumenical, interreligious and cultural dialogue. "Her faith is grounded in the eternal dialogue between God and humanity that took flesh in the person of Jesus Christ," he said.
The Church, he recalled, "offers the treasure she has received to every person and culture, in a spirit of openness and in respectful consideration of what the other religious traditions have to offer."
"Dialogue, in fact, is not antithetical to proclamation: it does not gloss over differences, but helps us to understand them, to preserve them in their distinctiveness and to discuss them openly for the sake of mutual enrichment.
In this way, we can discover in our common humanity, blessed by heaven, the key to our journey on this earth.
Hope is possible
The Pope recognized the role of religions in promoting human dignity, and in order to do so travel alongside one another.
"Brothers and sisters, our coming together here today is a sign that hope is possible," he said.
“Our coming together here today is a sign that hope is possible.”
"In a world rent by conflict and discord, this may seem utopian, yet the greatest undertakings are hidden and almost imperceptible at the outset," the Pope said.
He called for mutual prayerful support among followers of religions so that their common efforts to promote dialogue and build a better world "will not be in vain."
By raising our prayers together toward Heaven, the Pope invited, "Let us cultivate hope."
May this gesture, concluded Pope Francis, "be a simple and credible testimony to our religiosity, our walking together with eyes lifted to heaven, our living in this world in harmony, as pilgrims called to preserve the atmosphere of a home that is open to all people."
Deborah Castellano Lubov