ULAANBAATAR (SE): The fledgling Catholic community in Mongolia, which only marks its silver jubilee of foundation this year, celebrated its coming of age in a concrete fashion as it witnessed the ordination of its second priest since the rebirth of the Church in 1992.
Fides reported that Reverend Bernard Kambala, from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), became only the second priest to be ordained in Mongolia in modern times.
His ordination follows just six months after Father Joseph Enkh, who became not only the first priest, but first locally grown to be ordained in modern times when he knelt before the bishop in Ulaanbaatar in August 2016.
Father Kambala comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He came to Mongolia as a seminarian in 2014 and his ordination took place in the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar on February 19.
As a seminarian he has been studying the Mongolian language and working to immerse himself in the local culture. He has been on the staff of the cathedral parish for some time and written daily meditations in Mongolian, which are much appreciated by the local Catholics.
He chose the words of St. Paul to the Romans, “God proves his love for us: while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) as his motto.
The CICM congregation has been a mainstay in the reestablishment of the Church in Mongolia. Its first bishop, Bishop Wenceslaus Padilla, comes from the Philippine branch of the worldwide missionary organisation.
Bishop Padilla described the two ordinations as the gifts that guarantee the future of the Church in Mongolia and in addition, a Salesian deacon, Reverend Antonius Werun, is due to be ordained a priest later in the jubilee year.
Hong Kong-born Father Paul Leung Kon-chiu was among the first Salesians to venture to Mongolia in 1996. He is part of the first community to be established in the country’s second biggest city of Darkhan.
He told the Sunday Examiner in 2013 that in the beginning there was only one Catholic in the city of 70,000 people, but the community had grown to 19 in six years, which he reflected is a great result given the foreignness of everything Catholic in the area.
It is only recently that the Catholic population for the entire country reached 1,000, which Bishop Padilla believes is a sign of great growth, which is being born out in the ordination of new priests.
“These priests and missionaries will give new impetus to our community,” he told Fides.
The Church was first established in Mongolia in the 13th century, but lasted less than 100 years, not to reemerge until the early 19th century, when it was separated from the archdiocese of Beijing in 1840.
Then, with the advent of a Communist government in 1922, it again evaporated, not to liquefy until the coming of a democratic government in 1992. The ordinations reflect that it is now beginning to solidify its presence.
Today it has six parishes and a diplomatic representation from the Vatican.
Nevertheless, it still works under restrictions, as children under the age of 16 can only be introduced to the faith with the written permission of their parents and professions of faith can only be made within the walls of Church buildings.
Clerical dress in not allowed in public and no outward sign of the faith is permitted. Consequently, Father Leung explained that the church the Salesians built in Darkhan has no highly visible cross or Christian symbol displayed on its exterior.
Nevertheless, he reflected that just as the barren landscape of the countryside appears to be devoid of life during the long frozen winter months, in the short summer it does produce an abundant crop of wheat and vegetables.