ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (RNS) — On a papal visit largely absorbed by the global concerns of this central Asian country’s two superpower neighbors, China and Russia, the pope shifted the focus Monday (Sept. 4) to Mongolia’s most vulnerable, christening a building that offers shelter to the unhoused and to victims of domestic violence.
Volunteers at the House of Mercy have been working tirelessly to have the building ready in time for Francis’ visit to inaugurate the project. It was inspired by the missionary priest and papal representative to the country, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, who had a vision in 2019 to create a center to cater to a growing number of homeless, poor and immigrants.
“We create a home, not a house,” said Brother Andrew Tran, director of the House of Mercy, speaking to Vatican journalists. “They feel that they have a family, whenever they want they can come.” A group of people with disabilities sang and danced in anticipation of the pope’s arrival.
The building, the property of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres, is in the Bayangol district of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, which is home to more than 40% of the country’s 3.4 million citizens. The project was funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies of Australia and the global Catholic charity network Caritas.
Bayangol has received many of the rural workers who have come to the city for work in recent years, joined by immigrants from many parts of the world. According to a report by the Pontifical Mission Societies of Australia, the district is a microcosm of the broader wealth inequality across Mongolia, which has repercussions especially for the educational prospects and health of the newcomers.
Domestic violence is a critical issue in the male-dominated society of Mongolia. According to a 2020 report by the International Development Law Organization, almost 60% of women in Mongolia have suffered domestic abuse, as have roughly 46% of children.
“This House of Mercy is meant to be the point of reference for a variety of charitable works: hands outstretched toward our brothers and sisters struggling to navigate life’s problems,” Francis said in his speech. “A safe haven, in other words, where people can find a listening ear and an understanding heart.”
The pope said the project is an example of how the church is called to be present in the world, “to be a home where all are welcome and can experience a higher love that stirs and moves the heart.” He commended the volunteer work at the House of Mercy, which he called a great tool for societies to address internal issues and foster community.
“The true progress of a nation is not gauged by economic wealth, much less by investment in the illusory power of armaments, but by its ability to provide for the health, education and integral development of its people,” he said.
The pope hoped the House of Mercy would be a training ground for those wishing to offer themselves to others without looking for personal gain. Charity should never be used as a means to proselytize or convert, he said, but as a way for Catholics to live out their beliefs.
Francis also took the opportunity to dispel “myths” surrounding charitable work, saying that it’s not necessary to be wealthy to do charity and that charities should not be turned into businesses.
After his speech, Francis left for the airport, where he attended a farewell ceremony before boarding his plane for his return trip to Rome.