Pope Francis kicks off Apostolic Journey to Mongolia

Pope Francis departs from Rome aboard the papal plane as he begins his Apostolic Journey to Mongolia, and tells journalists traveling with him that Mongolia can teach us to embrace silence.

By Devin Watkins

The papal plane took off from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on Thursday afternoon at 6:41 PM bound for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

The flight is scheduled to last for nine and a half hours, and is due to land in the capital of Mongolia at 10 AM (GMT +8).

After departure, Pope Francis passed through the cabin and greeted the 70-odd journalists covering his Apostolic Journey to Mongolia. 

In off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope said his visit to the Asian nation offers a chance to embrace silence.

"To go to Mongolia is to go to a [numerically] small people in a vast land," he said. "Mongolia seems to have no end, and its inhabitants are few, a people few in number of a great culture. I think it will do us good to understand this silence, so vast, so big. It will help us understand what it means: not intellectually but with the senses. Mongolia is to be understood with the senses. Let me say that it would do us good perhaps to listen a to a little of Borodin's music, which was able to express what this breadth and greatness of Mongolia means."

Pope Francis thanks journalists for their coverage of his visit to Mongolia
Pope Francis thanks journalists for their coverage of his visit to Mongolia

As the Pope greeted Eva Fernandez Huescar, a journalist with Radio Cope, she presented him with a water canteen that belonged to a Ukrainian soldier who was wounded by an explosion. 

He blessed the shrapnel-riddled canteen, which the soldier had given to a church in Lviv to thank God for the gift of his life. Ms. Fernandez plans to return the canteen to the church after the visit to Mongolia has concluded.

Pope Francis blessed the canteen of a wounded Ukrainian soldier
Pope Francis blessed the canteen of a wounded Ukrainian soldier

Encounter with recipients of Church’s charity

Ahead of his departure, Pope Francis met with 12 residents of the Dormitory of Pope Francis, known as the "Gift of Mercy", which sits just outside the walls of Vatican City.

According to the Holy See Press Office, the men hail from various countries, and were part of a group of 30 people who on Wednesday helped to unload a shipment of humanitarian aid destined for Ukraine.

Around 300,000 portions of freeze-dried broth were shipped to the Vatican from South Korea to aid people suffering from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, told Vatican News that he had told the 12 men they would be working again on Thursday at 5:00 PM.

"Instead of loading aid onto trucks," said the Cardinal, "we went to greet the Holy Father before his visit to Mongolia. The guys were very surprised that it was possible to do that. I did not want to let them know in advance so that it would be a surprise for them. They were all very impressed that they met the Holy Father today. This is exactly how grace works."

The Pope's almoner also reiterated the symbolic character of this humanitarian aid to Ukraine, explaining that residents of the Dormitory of Pope Francis have enthusiastically taken part in the project to help those who currently face a very difficult situation.

Pope Francis greets residents of the Gift of Mercy Dormitory
Pope Francis greets residents of the Gift of Mercy Dormitory

Protection of Our Lady

Already on Wednesday afternoon, Pope Francis made his customary visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

He paused in prayer before the ancient icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani and entrusted his Apostolic Journey to Mongolia to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pope Francis prays before the icon of Our Lady
Pope Francis prays before the icon of Our Lady

Overview of Journey to Mongolia

The 4-day visit will see the Pope rest from his lengthy flight all day on Friday, before he begins his public events on Saturday.

He meets first with the President and civil authorities of Mongolia, and then holds an encounter with the Bishops, priests, religious men and women, and lay ministers at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar.

On Sunday, Pope Francis holds an ecumenical and interreligious encounter in the morning and presides over a public Mass in the afternoon.

His only public event on Monday is a meeting with the Church’s charitable workers at the House of Mercy.

The Pope is scheduled to return to Rome at around 5:20 PM (GMT +2).

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31 August 2023, 18:41