ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (CNS) — Pope Francis ended his four-day visit to Mongolia where Catholic missionaries began — with charity.
Blessing the new House of Mercy in Ulaanbaatar Sept. 4, the pope insisted that while Catholic charitable and social service activities have attracted Mongolians to the church, the service is motivated by love alone.
Salesian Brother Andrew Tran Le Phuong, director of the House of Mercy, told the pope the facility would offer: a shelter for vulnerable people, especially women and children; a first aid center for the homeless; free laundry and shower facilities; a place where returning migrants and others in need could go for help in connecting to services; and a meeting place to coordinate the variety of Catholic charities operating in the city.
Naidansuren Otgongerel, who took the name “Lucia” when she was baptized, uses prostheses on her arms and legs. But, she told the pope, “I am the luckiest person in the world, because I made the decision to accept fully the love of God, the love of Jesus.”
Pope Francis used his speech to the charity workers and volunteers “to reject certain myths,” including one about why Catholics offer education and health care, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and care for widows and orphans.
A big myth, he said, is that “the Catholic Church, distinguished throughout the world for its great commitment to works of social promotion, does all this to proselytize, as if caring for others were a way of enticing people to ‘join up.’ No!”
“Christians do whatever they can to alleviate the suffering of the needy because in the person of the poor they acknowledge Jesus, the son of God, and, in him, the dignity of each person, called to be a son or daughter of God,” the pope said.
The House of Mercy, he said, should be a place “where people of different creeds, and nonbelievers as well, can join efforts with local Catholics in order to offer compassionate assistance to our many brothers and sisters in the one human family.”
Throughout his stay in Mongolia, Pope Francis tried to reassure the government and suspicious Mongolians that Christians were there to help and not to colonize or undermine traditional Mongolian culture.
Works of charity that involve people of different religions or no religion at all, he said, help people see each other as brothers and sisters, giving them a sense of “fraternity that the state will rightly seek to protect and promote.”
“For this dream to come true,” Pope Francis said, “it is essential, here and elsewhere, that those in public office support such humanitarian initiatives, encouraging a virtuous synergy for the sake of the common good.”
The pope also rejected the idea that “only the wealthy can engage in volunteer work” because “reality tells us the opposite. It is not necessary to be wealthy to do good; rather, almost always it is people of modest means who choose to devote their time, skills and generosity to caring for others.”
Another myth, he said, is “the notion that only money counts, as if the only way to care for others is to employ a salaried staff and invest in large facilities.”
“Certainly, charity demands professionalism, but charitable works should not turn into businesses,” the pope said. “Rather, they should retain their freshness as works of charity where those in need can find people ready to listen to them with compassion, regardless of whatever pay they may receive.”