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Friday, September 19, 2008

"Fledging Mongolia Church Cautious About Vocations"

From The Indian Catholic

ULAANBAATAR (UCAN) -- Enkh-Baatar is the first Mongolian Catholic to join a seminary, but the local Catholic Church, five years his junior, is not actively promoting vocations.

"It is too early to have this, as those young people, both boys and girls, have still to deepen their faith and practice their Christian living," explains Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar.

Nevertheless, Enkh-Baatar, whose baptismal name is Joseph, left the capital on Aug. 28 for Daejeon diocese in South Korea, where he will first study the Korean language for six months and then begin classes at Daejeon Seminary.

The 21-year-old parishioner of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ulaanbaatar, who is preparing to become a diocesan priest for the prefecture, uses only one name, like most people in Mongolia. He recently graduated in biochemistry from Mongolian International University, which Korean Protestants run in Ulaanbaatar.

"I wanted to go to the seminary right after finishing school, but my family and everybody in the mission, including the bishop, advised me to go to university first. I was very disappointed," Enkh-Baatar told UCA News.

"I later saw that my elders were wise," he admitted. "Science brought me to a closer understanding of God's creation."

Despite Bishop Padilla's reservations about rushing into vocation promotion, the local Church leader eventually approved Enkh-Baatar's application, the first. The Philippine missioner also clarified that initial signs of interest to the priesthood or Religious life are encouraged.

The bishop pointed out that St. Mary's Parish in the capital has a group of boys and young men living there for "intensive immersion in Catholic life," even though not all plan to be priests. They attend Mass and engage in other spiritual practices daily, and learn to live by Catholic principles.

Vocation promotion is an open possibility for each of the nine congregations that work in Mongolia, Bishop Padilla affirmed. But if vocations are to be encouraged, they should be for the local diocese, "and not to be members of the Religious congregations," the Immaculate Heart of Mary missioner said. "We have to build up the local Church in Mongolia."

Enkh-Baatar agrees: "If I join a congregation, they may send me to another country. I see myself as a priest in my own land. I am sure this is what Mongolia needs." He pointed out that all priests and nuns in the Mongolian Church are foreigners.

Similarly, Ganzayaa, 24 said she has wanted to become a Missionaries of Charity nun ever since she became a Catholic in 2003, with the baptismal name Susanna. "But then I thought I might be sent to some other country. I want to serve my own people," she continued. The young woman has dedicated her life to serving her St. Mary's Parish.

One of the 12 boys and young men who began the immersion program at the parish last year said he is studying Korean and helps around the parish. "My parish priest told me I need several years more preparation before I can go to the seminary," added Peter, now 22.

The parish priest, Father Stephen Kim, belongs to Daejeon diocese, as do the other two Fidei Donum priests serving in Mongolia. Their presence shows the special relation Daejeon diocese has with the local Church, according to Sister Lieve Stragier, treasurer for the prefecture. Fidei Donum missioners are sent from one mission diocese to another, as Pope Pius XII proposed in his 1957 encyclical Fidei Donum (gift of faith).

Additionally, for 10 years running Daejeon diocese has sent its seminarians to Mongolia for mission work during the summer months, and Bishop Lazarro You Heung-sik of Daejeon has visited three times. Meanwhile, volunteer Catholic groups from Korea -- doctors, priests and nuns, medical and nursing students -- have also been visiting Mongolia during the past decade to serve the poor.

"We do not ask for anything -- no priests or support -- the Koreans just like to give it," Sister Stragier said. The Belgian missioner added that Daejeon diocese will take care of all Enkh-Baatar's expenses at the seminary.

The modern presence of the Catholic Church in Mongolia began with the arrival of then-Father Padilla and two confreres in July 1992. Today it counts 520 baptized Catholics.

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