Buddhist leaders to participate in interfaith dialogue with Pope Francis during his first trip to Mongolia

- through Henry Oudin

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Pope Francis greets Mongolian Buddhist leaders at the Vatican. 2022. Taken from usccb.org

Pope Francis has announced that he will visit Mongolia this week, from August 31 to September 4. This will be the pope's first-ever trip to the country, and it comes as the pontiff continues his work to build strong relationships between the Catholic Church and Buddhists around the world.

The planned visit comes a year after Pope Giorgio Marengo, Bishop of Ulaanbaatar, visited the pope to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1992 arrival of Christian missionaries in Mongolia, the first to enter after the country broke up. with the Soviet Union and the establishment of a new constitution. In 1992, Mongolia also established official diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

While Mongolia, a country of about 3,4 million people, has only about 1 Catholics, that number is up from less than 500 in 200.

“Our relations with Buddhists are very good,” said Sister Lieve Stragier, a Belgian missionary from Congregation De Jagt, who has lived in Mongolia for 15 years. Sister Stragier expressed her belief that the Pope could strengthen ties with Buddhists by clearly distinguishing Catholics from the often more “aggressive” Protestant or Evangelical Christians found in Mongolia. (Aleteia)

As part of the Pope's mission, he will take part in an interfaith meeting on September 3 with Mongolian Buddhist leaders. In welcoming Mongolian Buddhists to the Vatican last year, the pope emphasized the shared ideals of the Buddha and Jesus as peacemakers and promoters of nonviolence.

"In a world ravaged by conflict and war, as religious leaders, deeply rooted in our respective religious doctrines, we have a duty to inspire in humanity the will to renounce violence and build a culture of peace,” the pope said at last year’s meeting. . (Vatican)

Pope Francis greets Mongolian Buddhist leaders at the Vatican in 2022. From vatican.va

This visit continues the pope's efforts to build bridges with Buddhists around the world. He has previously visited Japan, Myanmar, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand, countries with a rich Buddhist history and a relatively small Catholic population. This trip to Mongolia marks his first visit to a country where Vajrayana Buddhism is predominantly practiced. In his work, Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of his predecessor John Paul II, who established relations with Buddhists from the 1980s.

However, relations between the Vatican and His Holiness the Dalai Lama have been strained in recent years. In 2007 Pope Benedict canceled a planned meeting with the Tibetan Buddhist leader, and in 2014 Pope Francis opted out of meeting the Dalai Lama as they attended a peace summit in Rome.

These steps have led the monastery of Gandan in Mongolia, which practices the Gelugpa tradition under the Dalai Lama, to avoid any relationship with the Catholic Church of Mongolia.

In addition to local tensions, the trip is likely to have greater political and religious implications. Huaiyu Chen, professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, wrote: "When the pope visits this complex religious terrain, his visit will be significant from a geopolitical and religious point of view: in June 2023, the Pope's envoy for peace visited Russia as part of the international mission. peacemaking efforts. But no pope has ever visited its other close neighbour, China, which does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican.” (Newspaper mail)

Mongolia has a rich history of international political and religious relations. Genghis Khan's successor, Ögedei Khan (r. 1229-1241), helped make the Mongol Empire the largest contiguous land empire in history. His son, Godan Khan, would become the first Mongol Buddhist prince, marking the beginning of a long history of ties with Tibet.

Today, 51,7 percent of people in the country identify as Buddhist, while 40,6 percent say they have no religion. Muslims make up 3,2 percent of Mongols, practitioners of shamanism 2,5 percent and Christians 1,3 percent of the population.

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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