Cardinal Marengo in Mongolia: my mission is first evangelisation

By Anita Sulentic, 22 June 2024
Cardinal Giorgio Marengo I.M.C, the Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Image: Catholic Mission


When I speak to His Eminence, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo I.M.C, the one topic we keep coming back to is history – not just the past or biblical analogies but the many historical moments that he is part of.

As the youngest Cardinal at 49 years of age, he stands apart from the rest. But he’s also the first of his Order, the Consolata Fathers, to be missioned to Mongolia along with the Consolata Sisters. He’s evangelising in a country with the smallest Catholic population – only 1,500 Catholics out of 3.3 million people. He’s also the first Cardinal to reside in Mongolia and coordinated the first-ever Papal visit to the country in 2023.

When describing Mongolia, he is careful to avoid the stereotypes that most people have, including those he had when he was first asked to go.

“I felt a special call to the country, but to be honest I didn’t know much about it. Just those things that an average Italian man would know like Ghengis Khan, horses and an empty land.”

“Now I will say that Mongolia is a very unique country with a great history. They played a crucial role in the world for hundreds of years. Their culture is sophisticated and is shaped by their geography. Their nomadic way of living is different from other nomadic ways. There is the influence of Confucianism, Buddhism and Shamanism. Their language is totally different to their neighbours and their cultural traditions like literature and music is fascinating. They have all these shapes to their identity.

“So Mongolia is a very complex, very beautiful country. When we describe it we should say there are at least two Mongolias. One is Ulaanbaatar – a modern, capital city. It is a chaotic, urban centre with all the things the Western world enjoys. And then you have the rest of Mongolia where you are in the middle of nowhere where people still live in the traditional way.”

This traditional way is where 30% of the population relies on animal husbandry for their way of life. And with 65 million registered animals for 3.3 million people, this picture becomes clearer.

This makeup of the country may be why Pope Francis has paid special attention.

“The reality of the church in Mongolia is that it’s one of the few local churches that really resemble the original setup of the church described in the Acts of the Apostles.

“There are a very small number of [Christians] living in a completely diverse society with other preferences. And maybe because of that, the Holy Father wanted to have someone representing this reality to the College [of Cardinals].”

The influence of Pope Francis’ visit is still felt by the local church.

“Our faithful were so happy to have the Holy Father with them. We are probably the only local church who had a selfie [of all Catholics] with the Holy Father!

“He gave a very important speech. He told us firstly to focus on announcing the gospel and to be more aware of the importance of interpersonal relationships rather than structures.

“He also said that the role of a bishop is not a “manager”, that’s the word he used. The bishop is to be the poor embodiment of Christ, the good shepherd in the midst of his people. So walking together in that synodal way – the people of God, missionaries, religious, priests and the bishop as a family.

“He also said to pay attention to the cultural dimension of the faith, and the two-way process: enculturating the faith and evangelising the culture.”

Mongolia has taught His Eminence “a lot” about his own faith.

“We learn every day by the attempt of announcing the gospel. We learn everyday by the response of the people, that nothing is taken for granted. Everything is new because in our faith we need to constantly ask questions – what is the meaning of this?

“By being a missionary, I am always reminded of the freshness of the faith. That it is not something once and for all given. It’s an everyday discovery. Never be satisfied with what you know or what you think you know, but always deepen your faith.”

It’s his first visit to Australia, made possible by Catholic Mission which having been working with him on a few projects including the House of Mercy for people experiencing homelessness, the Don Bosco Centre for abandoned children and the Don Bosco Industrial Training and Vocational Centre for older students to enter the job market.

But he’s also here to speak of his strong experience in interfaith relations. Last night he was speaking on a panel with Bishop Vincent Long discussing the importance of interfaith dialogue at ACU North Sydney.

Bishop Vincent Long and Cardinal Marengo’s panel session on Bridges of Faith at ACU. Image: Catholic Mission

For those interested in meeting Cardinal Marengo, he will celebrate Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta on Saturday evening, 6pm followed by a Meet and Greet. All the details are found here.

Read Daily
* indicates required