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The pope concludes his trip to Mongolia and says the Church is not bent on conversion

The pope concludes his trip to Mongolia and says the Church is not bent on conversion

ULAANBAATAR, Sept. 4 (Reuters) – Pope Francis concluded a historic visit to Mongolia on Monday that gained international overtones because of his overtures to neighboring China on religious freedom.

At the end of Sunday’s mass, the pope sent his regards to China, describing its citizens as “noble” people and asking Catholics in China to be “good Christians and good citizens.”

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry said it had taken a positive stance on improving relations with the Vatican.

Asked about the pope’s remarks in Mongolia, ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a news conference that Beijing had maintained contacts with the Vatican.

The main purpose of Francis’ trip was to visit the small Catholic community. He ended his five-day mission on Monday with a stop to open the Home of Mercy, which provides health care to the neediest people in the Mongolian capital as well as to the homeless, victims of domestic violence and immigrants.

Housed in a converted school and the brainchild of Mongolia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Italian Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the House of Mercy will coordinate the work of Catholic missionary institutions and local volunteers.

“The real progress of a country is not measured by economic wealth, much less investment in the imaginary force of armaments, but by its ability to provide health, education and integrated development for its people,” Francis said at home.

He also said he wanted to dispel the “myth” that the goal of Catholic institutions is to convert people to religion “as if caring for others was a way to entice people to ‘join'”.

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Buddhist-majority Mongolia has only 1,450 Catholics out of a population of 3.3 million, and on Sunday almost the entire Catholic community was under one roof with the pope.

On Monday, about two dozen Chinese Catholics surrounded the Pope’s convoy as he sought his blessings.

People wave the flags of China and Hong Kong, as Pope Francis arrives for the Divine Liturgy in Steppe Square, during his Apostolic Journey in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on September 3, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rollins Obtain licensing rights

The worshipers, who identified themselves as Catholics from mainland China and wore uniforms bearing the words “Love Jesus,” crowded outside the House of Mercy.

As Francis’ motorcade left the station, they sang a Christian hymn dedicated to the Pope in Mandarin and tried to evade security and reach his car. And one of the women managed to pass the security and got the blessing.

The woman said, “I am so happy, I can’t even control my feelings now.”

Mongolia was part of China until 1921 and the pope’s trip saw hints or appeals to the neighboring superpower as the Vatican has strained relations with the ruling Communist Party.

On Saturday, in words that appeared aimed at China rather than Mongolia, Francis said governments had nothing to fear from the Catholic Church because it had no political agenda.

Beijing pursues a policy of “Sinicization” of religion, in an attempt to eradicate foreign influences and impose obedience to the Communist Party.

China’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but in recent years the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to party authority.

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In December, the United States designated China, Iran, and Russia, among others, as countries of particular concern under the Religious Freedom Act due to severe violations.

And the historic 2018 agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops was fragile at best, with the Vatican complaining that Beijing had breached the agreement multiple times.

The phrase the pope used on Sunday — “good Christians and good citizens” — is a phrase used frequently by the Vatican in trying to convince communist governments that giving Catholics more freedom will only help their countries progress socially and economically.

(Reporting by Philip Bolella and Joseph Campbell; Editing by Mohamed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Michael Perry and Angus MacSwan

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