On Thursday, August 31, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. Pope Francis with his retinue and accredited journalists took off from Fiumicino Airport for Chinggis Khan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, where he landed at 10 a.m. the next day. The pope was welcomed by the foreign minister, and a young woman offered him a cup with Mongolia’s typical dry yoghurt. After reviewing the Guard of Honor and greeting their respective delegations, the pope and the president, in two separate cars, entered the VIP Lounge for a short conversation. Then Francis went to the apostolic prefecture, which is located south of the city. Thus began Francis’ 43rd apostolic journey.
Mongolia is the modern-day heir to the Mongol Empire, the largest land empire in human history, founded in 1206 by its famous leader, Chinggis Khan, who had unified the Mongol and Turkic tribes of the Asian steppes between China and Russia. Today it comprises the territory of Outer Mongolia, while Inner Mongolia is an Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. The country was a Chinese province between the 17th century and 1921, when it finally won independence with the help of the Soviet Union. In 1924 a Soviet-inspired constitution was adopted, founding the Mongolian People’s Republic. In 1928, the new government abolished the feudal social structure, dominated until then by Lamaist monks – the Tibetan version of Buddhism – initiating an anti-religious campaign and a plan for radical collectivization.
In the second half of the 1980s, a process of liberalization was initiated along the lines of the reforms introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. In the changed international scenario following the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989, this process laid the groundwork for the country’s transition to democracy, the turning point of which was a number of mass demonstrations in the winter of 1990. In that year, opposition parties were legalized, a permanent legislative body was created, and the office of president established.