CONGREGATION FOR THE EVANGELIZATION OF PEOPLES
HOMILY OF CARD. CRESCENZIO SEPE
Saturday, 30 August 2003
This day is holy to our Lord, let us rejoice and be glad.
Yet another invitation to rejoice on this happy and historical occasion that is unfolding before our eyes. And we rejoice for we are all part of this momentous event!
Once again the Holy Father is united with us and sends us his Blessing and best wishes for this special celebration.
Yesterday, we were witnesses to the first episcopal ordination here in the land of the Eternal Blue Sky. We praise and thank God for the gift He has given us in our pastor, Mons. Wens Padilla.
Today we are not just witnesses to an historical event. But more importantly, we are being witnessed to. We are the People of God, the sheep of his flock - his Church! You and I belong to that flock of the Good Shepherd. And today we are going to be consecrated to God as we consecrate this very first Cathedral here in Mongolia, dedicated to memories of the two pillars of the Church: Saints Peter and Paul. In so doing, we will become the worthy dwelling of the God of all peoples and creation, where all people can find a home and refuge.
The birth of the Church in the Steppes
How wonderful it is to know and reflect on the reality of the Church here in Mongolia - how you have grown into what you are now, a vibrant young Church! Indeed, the hand of the Benevolent God is at work in you! I have been a witness to this, since last year I was privileged to celebrate with you your 10th anniversary as a Church here.
Eleven years ago, literally from scratch, you started your journey as a community of God. No local community, or any structure. This, however, did not deter the first three missionaries (our new Bishop, Mons. Wens Padilla, Fr. Robert Gooseens and Fr Gilbert Sales: all of them are here with us now) to witness their faith in Jesus Christ among you, the Mongolian people. Rather, despite the difficulties and true to their missionary zeal and calling, like the great Apostle Paul, they dared to lay the foundation of what has become You, The Church, now.
They started celebrating the Eucharist with a community of foreign nationals. And slowly they made an impression on the local people. A few came and joined their celebrations. With an additional missionary force, they started their apostolate to the street people. Out of these came the birth of the first Catholics here in Outer Mongolia. And you know how the story continues. Slowly you have transformed the face and character of the Church, from foreign to Mongolian. From three missionaries, to 45; from a handful of local Catholics, to more than 150 and still scores of would-be Catholics; from one community of the faithful, to three; from one Verbist Care Centre, to the various works and apostolates to which you are presently committed in the service of God's people in Mongolia. God is great indeed!
And looking at the structure where we are now, we may marvel at how God works wonders in us! As the community of God is evolving as you are now, your structure is evolving with you. It has even taken on the character of the people. Since the beginning until now, it has been nomadic. I have been told that this is your eighth move! You started in apartments, then you rented a space in a building in Sansar, then you moved to the Catholic Church Mission Centre, and after that to two other Churches in Khaan Uul. And lastly, to this new cathedral - the very first Catholic Church structure in the country. Yes, it is not yet complete. It is still under construction. Yet, this also gives us time to ponder that the work at hand of building the Church of God (I am speaking of the physical building) involves a long process and makes a lot of twists and turns. That is why we need to consecrate this cathedral, a sign of our consecration as a community of faithful people to the God to whom we owe and entrust our lives personally and communally. Blessed be God indeed!
Our historical roots
It may be true that the Church here started with no local community and no structures. Yet it is noteworthy to underline the fact that our ancestors-in-faith planted the seeds of our presence here. I am talking about our first missionaries to the courts of the great Mongolian Khans from the 13th to the 14th centuries, such as John of Plano Carpini, John of Monte Corvino, William Rubrouck, and even the famous Italian merchant Marco Polo, and still others. Because of them we have taken our historical roots in the land of the Steppes.
The great Kublai Khan was particularly interested in Christianity. He personally asked Pope Clement IV to teach his people Christianity and science. And Marco Polo served in his court for 17 years. This was only possible because the great Mongolian Khans, starting from the greatest of them all, Genghis Khan, showed the kind of wisdom that was a rare quality during the 13th century, that is, the tolerance and acceptance of all religions. In the words of Khan Mangu to William Rubrouck: "Just as God gave different fingers to the hand, so he has given different ways to men".
I must say that this wisdom of your great ancestors may have been the guiding principle for the framers of your new constitution for enshrining in it this basic right to, and freedom of, religion. And probably the Christian historical heritage that we have had in Mongolia may have been the inspiration for the leaders of the new democratic Mongolia to initiate diplomatic relations with the Vatican. We commend this noble undertaking of your government. It was with the utmost happiness that our present Pope, His Holiness John Paul II, heartily welcomed this initiative. He re-established Vatican relations with Mongolia and sent the C.I.C.M. missionaries to start the Catholic Church presence here.
My dear Mongolian Catholics, be proud of your historical heritage. Thanks to the work of the early missionaries, including our C.I.C.M. fathers and brothers who had their first missions here, we are here today!
Our religious foundation
And as you claim your Christian historical heritage as a people, bear in mind that what sustains us in our efforts to build our Christian communities is our faith in the God who is loving and compassionate to us. It is faith in that Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who has given his life for us, his flock.
You, perhaps, know more than I do of what it means to be "shepherding". From your ancestors until now, especially in the countryside, tending the cattle or shepherding the flock has been rooted in your very soul. Thus, the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd rings a very familiar and intimate tune.
And this is what Paul, the great apostle to the nations, experienced in his journey to Damascus. The unconditional love of God made him the slave of that Love. As the second reading states, this love that is God's grace had set Paul apart and transformed him from a zealous persecutor of the Church of God to the greatest missionary of the Good News: that God loves all of us regardless of who we are! To his memory also we dedicate this Cathedral.
Saints Peter and Paul are the very pillars of the Church of God. They both represent our humanity and our being graced by God. Despite their individual failures God entrusted them with the building and edification of his people, his flock.
My dear Catholics; I am glad to tell you that the Successor of Peter, Pope John Paul II, who is the one in charge of the whole Catholic flock in the world, our good shepherd, has you always in his prayers. He has assured you of his continual care, support and love: He loves you; he loves all Mongolian people.
As we consecrate this Church of God, we consecrate our very human condition and ask God to heal us of our weaknesses. It is like a marriage that takes place between God and your community, with each one of you: families, young people, the elderly. It is an alliance that will endure for ever.
In his interview with the great Khan Mangu, William Rubrouck said: "My Lord, we are not men of war. Our wish is that only those who rule the world justly, in accordance with the will of God, should have dominion over it. Our mission is to teach men to live according to the will of God. And if this is pleasing to you, that is why we have come here".
My dear brothers and sisters of Mongolia, God and the Church today give you this Holy Temple and they ask you to make it resplendent with the sanctity of your life!
To all, I say like Jesus, "Come and see!". Church of Mongolia, this is your call!