ASIA/MONGOLIA - On mission in Arvajhėėr: the strategies of men, the surprises of God

Thursday, 31 August 2023 evangelization   pope francis   pastoral visit  

by Gianni Valente

Arvajhėėr (Agenzia Fides) - According to the latest census, there are fewer than 20,000 inhabitants in Arvajhėėr. In was in this small town in Mongolia, 400 kilometers south of the capital, that the missionaries began their apostolic work just twenty years ago. Before then, there was no trace of the presence of the Catholic Church in this region. The "new beginning" of the mission of Arvajhėėr is the starting point of the fourth video-reportage produced for Fides Agency by Teresa Tseng Kuang yi in view of Pope Francis' trip to Mongolia (August 31-September 4). The images, archival material and unpublished testimonies condensed in the video suggest in a simple and surprising way from which sources of grace the missionary adventure lived in Mongolia in recent decades are obtained.

Arvajhėėr - explains Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, missionary of the Consolata and today Apostolic Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, after having been parish priest of the small town in south-central Mongolia for a long time - "was truly the frontline mission for me", because "the reality of the capital is one thing, the province, the countryside, is another". When the first missionaries arrived in Arvajhėėr, they left behind "that little bit of certainty" that they had acquired in the early days of their presence in Mongolia, in order to "open up again to total novelty". There they set off again, "walking day by day", to establish relationships of trust with the population and the local authorities. And today, looking back on the journey, the Cardinal-missionary confides that he recognises "how the hand of the Lord guided us even through experiences that were not easy", when "we did not know what could have happened". In this experience, the missionaries were accompanied to be open to the surprises of the Spirit. "Because we", confided the Prefect of Ulaan Baatar, "sometimes start out with preconceived ideas, models that we carry within us", while "perhaps it is also important to be open to changes in plans", to be humble "and to listen to the Spirit, who speaks through reality".
Then the journey turned into "a simple testimony of life with the little ones, with the poorest". This is how "the desire of some people to approach the faith" was born. In the video-narration, the testimonies of missionaries such as Father James Mate, Sister Magdalene Maturi and Sister Theodora Mbilinyi almost involuntarily reveal the distinctive features of every authentic apostolic work: the concrete, the immanence in the ordinary part of people's lives, the joyful humility of those who recognize that the mission to touch and change people's hearts is not their own merit, but the work of Another. "There is nothing big in what we do, only friendship and the little things we can do with them", says Sr Theodora, who immediately adds that she feels "blessed" because the things she saw in Arvajhėėr are not what we only "study in books", but are "a real and living thing".
Real and living facts and encounters - this is what emerges from the video-reportage from Arvajhėėr - can accompany the lives of missionaries over time, configuring them to Christ. Docile assimilation to Christ is the secret of the fruitfulness of every authentic missionary adventure. Not by voluntarism in search of visibility through pretentious feats, but along the path of grateful and daily loyalty. "If we think of Our Lord's life during the 33 years he spent on this earth," Cardinal Marengo says in the video-reportage, "the first thirty years were spent in the anonymity of Nazareth. Then three years of ministry and three days of Passion, Death and Resurrection". The life of the missionaries - notes the Prefect of Ulaanbaatar - often seems to unfold according to a "pattern", with the succession of many days "perhaps insignificant, at least in appearance", but lived in fidelity to the relationship with Christ. By trying to build relationships with others as Jesus did with his friends and disciples.
"And then, within this fabric of life, the Lord builds all his mystery of love for the people to whom we are sent". It is useless to invent missionary strategies and "make big plans", but it is better "to open up to what reality tells us day after day". This is how people can realize that "beyond our poor lives, there is a message of love, of mercy that touches them and eventually pushes them to faith". The gratitude shown by the baptized Mongolians, those who were the first to be touched and attracted by faith in Christ, testifies that Christ continues to exercise his preference for the poor and the little ones. In the video reportage, the elderly couple Perlima and Renani talk about the joy of going to mass and the prayers with which they ask God every day to protect their lives and also their livestock. They say they met the small Catholic community in Mongolia at a time when, with their four children, "life was very difficult", there was no work and "we didn't have food every day". But they add that since then, every evening, even when there was little to eat, "we recognized that we were rich in the love of Christ". (Agenzia Fides, 21/8/2023)