Pope Francis formally began his 8,000-kilometer trip to Mongolia on Saturday, a country of a tiny Catholic population. With just 1,500 Catholics in the entire country, the visit was lacking the usual fanfare and mass crowds typically associated with Pope Francis’ trips abroad.
Pictures from the scene showed small gatherings of around 100 people, with lower security in place than is usually seen when the Pope visits foreign countries. The Pope, who is 86 and has been suffering from poor health, arrived on Friday after a 10-hour flight. He came at the invite of the government and spent the first day resting.
In a speech delivered from Ulaanbaatar on Saturday, the Pope said that governments and secular institutions have “nothing to fear from the Church’s work of evangelization.”
Without naming any country in particular, he went on to say that the Church “has no political agenda to advance, but is sustained by the quiet power of God’s grace and a message of mercy and truth, which is meant to promote the good of all.”
During the speech, Pope Francis also called on leaders to dispel “the dark clouds of war.”
Mongolia’s President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh told the crowd: “With a view to peacefully contributing to the international community’s efforts in addressing regional and global security challenges, Mongolia has been offering its initiatives and actively engaging with our immediate and third neighbors.”
According to Vatican News, the most recent data from 2023 puts the current number of Catholics in Mongolia at around 1,500 out of an overall population of 3.5 million.
This compares to only 14 Catholics in the country in 1995, per Vatican News.