Mongolia has always had a fascination for me. The very name and that of the ancient capital, Karakorum, conjure up a romantic vision of infinite rolling grasslands with great herds of cattle and horses, of Genghis Khan and his mounted hordes sweeping across Asia and into Europe, of small clusters of round nomad tents lost in the vast spaces.
The country holds an annual festival – the Naadam festival – to celebrate its history and culture. Local festivals are held at various places around the country but the largest is in Ulan Bataar, the capital, and one year we decided to attend. It was most impressive, with displays by hundreds of schoolchildren in the vast sports arena. There was great emphasis on wrestling and archery, sports in which Mongolians excel, and horse racing across miles of steppe outside the city – Mongolian children learn to ride almost as soon as
they can walk.
There is a small Catholic community, mostly in Ulan Bataar, with a church, a school and a medical centre. Mass there was attended by an extraordinary mix of peoples and it really brought home to me, as never before, the sheer universality and diversity of the Church. Here we were in a distant corner of Asia, yet the parish priest came from Cameroon in the far west of Africa and his assistant from (I think) Tanzania, on the other side of Africa; in the congregation were local nuns and nuns from Mother Theresa`s order in India; there were local people and expatriates, some working locally and some visiting, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe.
Chatting after Mass, the priest told me something of his widespread parish, and of the problems in reaching some of the remoter areas. He had a particular problem at the moment, because his elderly car had broken down and spares were at a premium. I suggested he contacted a Catholic charity, which I knew about, which existed specifically to help needy parishes like his; apparently he did so, because I remember hearing some time later that they had been able to provide him with a 4WD vehicle which would have
been ideal for his needs.
I sometimes think that we don`t realise how fortunate we are in Wales. We are usually not too far from church; Mass and the Sacraments are available; we have a ready-made community, and schools, even if these are only in the major centres. The contrast with Mongolia could hardly be greater.