By Linda Bordoni – Ulaanbaatar
Pope Francis attended a grandiose welcoming ceremony in Ulaanbaatar in the morning of Saturday, 2 September, at the start of his first working day in Mongolia and signed the official guest book in the State Palace, describing himself as a pilgrim of peace.
The Pope arrived in Ulaanbaatar on Thursday evening at the start of his 43rd Apostolic Visit abroad and rested throughout Friday after the long journey.
‘Pilgrim of peace’
The official open-air welcoming ceremony, attended by all political and religious authorities took place in Ulaanbaatar’s Sukhbaatar Square, beneath an enormous statue of Mongolia’s founding father, Chinggis Khan, placed at the centre of the majestic State Palace.
He was treated to a perfectly choreographed parade by Mongolian guards and soldiers attired in uniforms that spanned the centuries, including soldiers on horseback dressed like ancient Mongol warriors.
The Pope sat alongside President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh, who wore a traditional cream-coloured robe, a wide-brimmed Mongol hat and boots with upturned tips.
After the ceremony, the Pope and the President met privately in a ger, a traditional round, nomadic tent, set up inside the State Palace.
That’s where he signed the guest book with these words:
“As a pilgrim of peace in this country young and ancient, modern and rich in tradition, I am honoured to walk the paths of encounter and friendship, which generate hope. May the great clear sky, which embraces the Mongolian land, illuminate new paths of fraternity.”
This is the first papal visit to the East Asian nation in history, and Pope Francis is primarily visiting the country’s tiny Catholic community of less than 1,500 baptized faithful.
He is expected to express his support and closeness to a young Church that foreign missionaries have been rebuilding since 1992 after Mongolia transitioned to democracy following 70 years of communist regime.