Jubilee Pilgrimage

April 2016

We, members of the little Christian community of Arvaiheer, have lived the joy of our jubilee pilgrimage in Mongolia! After the announcement that we, too, would have gone to the holy door in Ulaanbaatar, at the Cathedral dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, expectations were high and vibrant! The Mongolian religious tradition knows the custom of pilgrimages, originally taken from the Tibetan experience of approaching to the holy city of Lhasa. The ascetic wanderings of Buddhist monks in the past century, before it was forbidden by the communist regime, which had in mind to put an end, also by violence, to any religious expression, were also well known. Starting from these assumptions and relying on the enthusiasm immediately shown by people, the best preparation for the event was focused mainly on the Christian meaning of the pilgrimage and of the crossing of the holy door. At the same time it was an excellent occasion to deepen the meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation and to share personal experiences. Meeting the merciful God revealed by Christ is indeed the good news that enters people’s life, raises them up from miseries and fears, and opens new horizons! Also the idea of indulgences is easily understandable, considering some similarities with an analogous practice present in Mongol Buddhism. For us, missionary fathers and sisters, this has been a positive rediscovery while we were explaining it to the people.

So, we are ready to go! We cover the 430 km. separating Arvaiheer from the capital with a small bus, rented for the occasion. The general feeling is joyful. We all know that to travel together is always an occasion for fraternity and it is much appreciated here in Mongolia. Once in Ulaanbaatar, we go back to the themes of the pilgrimage and celebrate the Eucharist in our apartment, like the first Christian communities which used to gather in the houses of the faithful. Then the happy day arrives: everybody is wearing the deel, the traditional Mongolian garment. We reach the Cathedral where a catechist welcomes us, showing us all the different rooms of the building. Then, here is the solemn moment of the holy door! There is no need to queue in order to cross it! It is better than at St. Peter’s because we are the only ones! In the background we hear the noise of the city traffic, but in the silence of the inside we have time for the eucharistic adoration and for confession before the celebration of Mass. Spontaneous smiles brighten faces showing feelings of satisfaction and peace. In the afternoon, after a packed lunch in the large park of the town, we go to see the Bishop, Mons. Wenceslao Padilla, who has been waiting for us and is happy to meet the entire Christian community of Arvaiheer. He asks our impressions and shares his, and insists on the beauty of belonging to the first group of faithful from the region of Uvurkhangai. He continues by saying that it is a gift and a responsibility and now that this Christian community of adults has been formed, its members can, gradually, transmit the faith within the family, involving young people and children. A group photo is taken, then we leave. We attend the Sunday Mass in the Parish of Khan Uul, where we are known. We resume the travelling, and the feast goes on, while on the bus we pilgrimage.

The crossing of the holy door has been for all a very deep experience of faith and of fraternity. It has left a sign in the life of this small community, now called to live and witness the faith in their. But we are certain that the peace and the joy we have seen on the faces of the few catholic people of Arvaiheer will be, also for all the others, the most eloquent sign of a faith that can unlock the best, often hidden in each of us!