Action Alert!

Catholic World News News Feature

Pope sends regrets for not visiting Mongolia August 29, 2003

Pope John Paul II has expressed regret that he was unable to make a trip to Mongolia during this month.

In a message conveyed by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the Pope said that "very much wanted to be present in person" for the consecration of Mongolia's first bishop and the dedication of a new cathedral in the capital city, Ulan Bator.

Earlier this year, Vatican officials had disclosed that they were planning an August trip by the Pontiff to Mongolia. Msgr. Renato Boccardo, who does advance planning for papal travel, visited Ulan Bator to begin arranging the details of the trip. The Pope would have participated in the consecration of Bishop Wenceslao Selga Padilla and the dedication of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. But those plans did not come to fruition, and in July the Vatican confirmed that the Pontiff would not be traveling to Mongolia this year.

"It was not in the Lord's plans," the Pope said in his message to the Mongolian Catholic community. There are 170 Catholics living in the Asian country, which is predominantly Buddhist. They are served by 33 missionaries.

Cardinal Sepe, the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization, is representing the Holy Father at the ceremonies in Ulan Bator this week. He arrived in the Mongolian capital on August 25, and will remain through the end of the month.

Cardinal Sepe said that he received a very warm reception as he arrived in Mongolia as the Pope's special representative. The ceremonies in the new cathedral were broadcast across the country by national radio and television networks, Vatican Radio reported.

But the postponement of a visit by Pope John Paul was a disappointment not only to the tiny Catholic community of Mongolia, but also to many more Catholics living in Russia. The rumors that had circulated in Rome earlier this year suggested that on his return trip from Ulan Bator, the Holy Father would stop in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, for a short stay-- at which point many Catholics might have been able to make the trip to see him in person.

The Pope's visit to Kazan was also planned as an occasion for returning a famous icon, the image of Our Lady of Kazan, to its original owners, the Russian Orthodox Church. Vatican officials hinted that this might furnish an appropriate occasion for a long-awaited summit meeting between Pope John Paul II and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II. The plans were shelved when Orthodox officials spurned that suggestion.