Pope Francis arrived in Mongolia on Friday morning on a visit to encourage one of the world’s smallest and newest Catholic communities.
It is the first visit by a pope to the landlocked Asian country, and it comes at a time when relations between the Vatican and Mongolia’s two major neighbors, Russia and China, are once again tense.
Pope Francis had a rare opportunity to visit President Xi Jinping when his flight over Chinese airspace during the night brought him to the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar. The pope is required by Vatican protocol to extend these greetings whenever he travels over a different nation.
While Christianity has been present in the region for hundreds of years, the Catholic Church has only had a legal presence in Mongolia since 1992, when the country overthrew its Soviet-backed communist regime and established religious freedom in its constitution.
Since then, diplomatic ties between Mongolia and the Holy See have existed, and a number of missionary religious organizations, including Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, have helped to support the fledgling community during its first three decades.