by Gianni Valente
Erbil (Agenzia Fides) - Pope Francis' apostolic journey to Mongolia is "a welcome initiative" that also contributes to rediscovering "the well-documented and well-known history of Christianity in this country and among the Mongolian people". This is what the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Awa III, stresses to Fides in his reflections on the ecumenical importance of the Bishop of Rome's visit to the great Asian country. Pope Francis' visit to Mongolia - underlines Mar Awa - "is undoubtedly a welcome initiative, a visit to meet one of the smallest and most remote flocks in the world".
Furthermore, "although today the Catholic community in Mongolia is very small, we are reminded of the well-documented and known history of Christianity in this country and among the Mongolian people", the Patriarch continued, "from the annals of Church history we learn that the first encounter between the Church and the Mongol tribes is in fact due to the preaching of the Gospel by the missionaries of the Assyrian Church of the East. Already at the end of the 6th century, thanks to the monks of the Church of the East, Christianity began to spread among the peoples of the Eurasian steppe".
"In 1281", Patriarch Mar Awa III recalls, "the Assyrian Church of the East had a Turkish-Mongol Patriarch, Mar Yahb'Alaha III (1281-1317). At that time, the ecclesiastical presence of the Assyrian Church was very strong in what is now the Mongolian state and in the Chinese province of Mongolia".
Today - reports the Patriarch - "there is a growing awareness among the Mongols of their ancient Christian heritage, which dates back to before the arrival of Western missionaries in the early 13th century. Many in Mongolia today are striving to restore the ancient Church of their ancestors, namely the Assyrian Church of the East".
In a previous interview with Fides (see Fides, 5/12/2022), Patriarch Mar Awa referred to the peculiarities of the great missionary adventure of the ancient Church of the East, traces of which can still be found - the remains of churches and monasteries even in the Arabian Peninsula: "The missionaries of the ancient Church of the East," the Assyrian patriarch emphasized on this occasion, "were an 'army' of a spiritual nature. It was primarily monks and nuns who placed themselves in contexts shaped by other thoughts, by ancient cultures and religious mentalities. They wooed people's hearts with gentleness rather than dynamics of conquest. And then they helped local people find the graphic signs to put their languages and their spoken words into written form. And every urgency, every concrete problem of life became an opportunity to do good and become friends and with all people". (Agenzia Fides, 1/9/2023)