Mongolia, The Catholic Church in
MONGOLIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Mongolia is a landlocked, arid plateau averaging between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level, occupying a vast extent of steppes, deserts and mountains in east central Asia between Russia and China. Natural resources in the region include oil, coal, copper, tungsten,
phosphates and other minerals, while the harvesting of wheat, barley and potatoes, and the raising of livestock for food, cashmere and hides provide many Mongolians with their livelihood. The northern part of the region, once known as Outer Mongolia, comprises Mongolia proper; the southern region, geographically part of Mongolia, forms the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, an administrative unit of China since 1947 that includes parts of Manchuria as well as Inner Mongolia in the traditional sense.
The historic homeland of the mongols who under Genghis Kahn conquered much of eastern Europe during the 13th century, the region was divided into two separate entities, both of which were directly or indirectly under the domination of China or the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) until the mid-1990s. A province of China from 1686, the region gained its independence in 1921, after ten years of fighting. The Mongolian People's Republic, a Soviet satellite, ruled from 1924 to 1992, when a new democratic constitution was promulgated and elections established. Only in Outer Mongolia, where ethnic Mongols constitute 93 percent of the populace, does the Mongol race predominate numerically. The Islamic Kazazhs constitute four percent of the region's population.
Early History. The region was originally inhabited by nomadic tribes who adhered to Shamanism (see shaman and medicine man). Lamaistic buddhism was introduced from tibet in the 13th century at the invitation of Kublai Khan (1215–94), grandson of Genghis Khan and conqueror of China. Buddhism quickly grew to become the predominant religion of Mongolia (see lamaism).
Christianity was first propagated by Nestorians (see assyrian church of the east). Franciscan missionaries entered southern Mongolia in the 13th and 14th centuries, prior to the destruction of the Ming dynasty in 1368 (see mission, history, i), and in 1690 Mongolia was incorporated in the diocese of Peking. Evangelization was entrusted to the Jesuits until the French Vincentians took charge in 1785. One of them, Father Gabet,
visited Outer Mongolia in 1838 with two converted lamas. The Vicariate Apostolic of Mongolia was erected in 1840. The first Mongolian priest was Garudi (1820–93), a former lama who was ordained in 1854 and who was also known as Peter Fong. The immaculate heart of mary congregation (Scheut Fathers), who succeeded the Vincentians in 1865, worked mainly among the Chinese immigrants in Inner Mongolia. A number of missionaries moved north to labor among several Mongol tribes, and attained a measure of success with the Ordos, who had suffered much during a Muslim uprising of 1862–72 and a severe famine in 1878. Mongol converts partly abandoned nomadic life and settled around the mission established in Porobalgason in 1874. A second mission station, founded in 1904 at Dumdadu, became the independent mission of Kharashili in 1937. The vicariate of Mongolia was divided into three regions in 1883: the vicariate of Southeast Mongolia; the vicariate of Southwest Mongolia in Inner Mongolia which in 1922 was itself divided into the vicariates of Suiyüan and Ningsia; and the vicariate Apostolic of Central Mongolia, which was split to create the Vicariate of Tchagar (Siwantze from 1924) and the mission sui juris of Ulan Bator in Outer Mongolia.
Protestants established a mission and printing press at Selenginsk among the Buriats (1817). They translated the Old Testament into Mongolian and published it in 1840 and the New Testament in 1846. O. S. Nostegaard, a Norwegian, remained in Outer Mongolia from 1890 to 1900. James Gilmour (1843–91) of the London Missionary Society, the first Protestant missionary in Inner Mongolia, worked among the Chakhars (1875–91). The Scandinavian Mission Alliance entered this region in 1895. The Swedish Mongol Mission, the Assemblies of God and the British and Foreign Bible Society also sent missionaries to the southern regions, although few ventured north into Outer Mongolia.
The Modern Church. Despite the efforts of the Church, 80 percent of Mongols were members of the Lamaistic Church of Tibet at the time the region fell under communist control. After 1924 Buddhism, as well as Catholicism, suffered severely from the Communist drive to destroy all religions. The 767 lama monasteries with 100,000 monks that existed in Outer Mongolia in March of 1921, when the region gained its independence from China, disappeared after 1936, the life of monks deemed particularly useless by communist standards. The temple of Gadang was the only one left open in Ulan Bator by the mid-1950s. While Inner Mongolia still had 997 monasteries with 150,000 lamas in 1952, many of these monasteries were razed in the coming decade.
Despite the assault on the Church during the 1930s and 1940s, Suiyüan became an archdiocese in 1946, with Ningsia, Siwantze and Tsining as its suffragan sees. While the mission in Outer Mongolia was entrusted to the Scheut Fathers in 1922, they were never allowed to enter it. The mission set up in 1923 by Swedish Protestants in Ulan Bator was closed in 1924 when the missionaries were expelled. There were less than 100 Mongol Protestants when all the missionaries were expelled from Inner Mongolia (1948–52). By 1953 no Christians of any faith were known to exist in Outer Mongolia.
Into the 21st Century. In 1992, with the fall of the USSR, the communist government of Mongolia weakened and democratic influences increased, prompting the promulgation of a new constitution in February of 1992 that granted freedom of religion and free, democratic elections under a reorganized government. The constitution also stipulated the separation between church and state; while the government funded the restoration of several Buddhist temples as historic sites, it did not otherwise fund the Buddhist religion. From 1992 to 2000, 90 Buddhist temples, 40 Christian Churches, a Muslim mosque and four Baha’i Churches were founded with the permission of the Mongolian government.
In May of 1996, the first Catholic Mass to be held in Mongolia since the arrival of communism was performed in a newly opened church in Ulan Bator. By 2000 the Church was slowly becoming reestablished in Mongolian life. Msgr. Wens Padilla established the first mission to Mongolia at the request of the new democratic government in 1992, and a second was established under South Korean Father Robert Lee Jun-Hwa in 1997. Three priests, ten nuns and 17 missionaries were at work in the country by 2000. Among their good works were the establishment of a Catholic kindergarten that taught over 60 students per year and an orphanage that cared for handicapped children. In June of 2000 Pope John Paul II met with Mongolian president Natsagiin Bagabandi to discuss the future of the Church in the region. Mongolia established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1992.
Bibliography: j. van hecken, "The Apostolate among the Mongols," Catholic Missions, 9 (1932) 80–81; Les Missions chez les Mongols aux temps modernes (Peiping 1949); "La Mission 'sui iuris' de la Mongolie Extérieure," Neue Zeitschrift für Mission-swissenschaft, 10 (1954) 20–34. g. h. bonfield, Mongolia, a Neglected Missionfield (London 1910). j. leyssen, The Cross over China's Wall (Peiping 1941). c. van melchebeke, En Mongolie: L'Action sociale de l'Église catholique (Paris 1945). k. s. latourette, A History of Christian Missions in China (New York 1929). Histoire universelle des missions catholiques, 4 v., ed. s. delacroix, (Paris 1956–59) v. l–3. a. mulders, Missiongeschichte (Regensburg 1960). Le missioni cattoliche: Storia, geographia, statistica (Rome 1950) 300–302. j. rutten, Les Missionaires de Scheut et leur fondateur (Louvain 1930). The Chinese Empire, ed. m. broomhall (London 1907). o. lattimore, Nomads and Commissars: Mongolia Revisited (New York 1962). b. rintchen, Les Matériaux pour l'étude du chamanisme mongol, 2 v. (Wiesbaden 1959–61). g. huth, Geschichte des Buddhismus in der Mongolei, 2 v. (Strassburg 1892–96). a. gruenwedel, Mythologie des Buddhismus in Tibet und der Mongolei (Leipzig 1900). r. j. miller, Monasteries and Culture Change in Inner Mongolia (Wiesbaden 1959). j. wicki, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, eds., j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 7: 549–552.
[j. van hecken/eds.]