A passion for Jesus and his people: The world’s youngest Catholic church

In 1992, Fr Wenceslao ‘Wens’ Padilla packed the warmest clothes he had and set off from his home country of the Philippines for the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. His mission was to share God’s love with the people living in one of the harshest climates in the world, following the collapse of Communism. Today, he is the nation’s first and only bishop.

The future Bishop Wens and two other priests arrived together, operating out of a hotel room. The three men would celebrate Mass with expatriates. Eventually, they in turn brought their Mongolian friends and, before long, the first Catholic Church building was constructed, supported by Missio.

During his first years in Mongolia, Bishop Wens worked hard to understand the needs of the people, leading to several initiatives that continue today. They include a care centre for children who were homeless, schools, clinics, and training centres for vocational skills. “All cater for the very poor,” says Bishop Wens, “those who have no clothes to wear, no food, no family.”

As Pope Francis reminds us in his message for this year’s World Mission Sunday, “mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people”. This passion is what drives Bishop Wens and the work of the missionaries he works alongside. With the help of local catechists, they are reaching out, sharing the Catholic faith with the Mongolian people in a way that is relevant and meaningful to their own culture.

Gantulga’s family is just one example of people whose lives have been dramatically transformed thanks to missionaries sharing God’s love. The family first learned about the Catholic Church when they moved to the rural town of Arvaiheer ten years ago. Along with his wife, Uurtsaikh, and children, Gantulga sought refuge after tragically losing all their livestock, and therefore their livelihood, due to the freezing conditions.

While Uurtsaikh and the children started attending activities run by the church, Gantulga was haunted by his alcohol addiction and destructive behaviour. Sadly, in Mongolia alcoholism, domestic abuse and extreme poverty is widespread.

Seeing the changes in his wife’s behaviour, Gantulga was inspired to learn about the Catholic faith and started going to church with Uurtsaikh and their children.

Gantulga was baptised at Easter two years ago, and is now a parish catechist. He says, “When I started going to church and feeling how God’s mercy reaches me, I felt that I had to receive baptism. Now I can say I am a better father and husband because I have received God’s mercy and can be merciful to others.”

On Sundays young and old gather in the traditional ger (tent) church, sharing their faith with one another and supporting each other. Gantulga explains, “There is a positive influence of the Church here in this whole community. There is more joy and happiness around us and there has been a big change for the better in the lives of many people.”

Mgr Canon James Cronin, the National Director of Missio in England and Wales, reminds us, “World Mission Sunday is an opportunity for the family of the Church to support its youngest member, the Church of Mongolia.”

In order to share God’s love, Bishop Wens and his fellow missionaries rely on the worldwide Catholic family, through the Pope’s own charity for overseas mission, Missio. He is incredibly grateful for this support and says, “Although I’ve seen many Mongolians come to know Christ, there are still so many more that need to be reached. I want to continue reaching out to the poor and am grateful for the love and support of our sisters and brothers in England and Wales.”

This case study is associated with the charity Missio.