Pope Francis, visits Mongolia for the first time in the church’s history.

Mongolia has about five inhabitants per square mile while being about the same area as Alaska. Thirty percent of the people living there are nomads or semi-nomads. One-third of Mongolia is covered by the Gobi Desert, making it the world’s largest landlocked country after Mongolia. It has borders with Russia to the north and China to the south.

The papal plane flew across Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and China during the approximately 10-hour voyage.

Each of these heads of state, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, received a greeting from the pope. In a meeting with the Chinese leader, Pope Francis expressed his prayers for the prosperity of China and its people, pleading for the “divine blessings of unity and peace.”

The 86-year-old pope will spend the first day in the Mongolian capital resting at the apostolic prefecture. On September 2nd, he will take part in a welcome ceremony in Sükhbaatar Square alongside President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh. Later, he’ll visit the city’s Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul to speak with the country’s tiny Catholic population.

Catholics make up less than 1% of Mongolia’s total population of 3.3 million. All of Mongolia is under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar because there aren’t enough Catholics there to support a separate diocese.

In 1922, the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was entrusted with the responsibility of establishing the first modern mission in Mongolia. Soon after, however, a communist government cracked down on religious freedoms and kept them that way until 1992. In 2016, Mongolia ordained its first indigenous priest.

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