Vatican City, Aug 12, 2020 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met Wednesday with an Italian missionary who was recently consecrated a bishop to lead Mongolia’s apostolic prefecture.

Bishop Giorgio Marengo, 46, served as a Consolata missionary priest in Mongolia for 17 years before Pope Francis appointed him Prefect of Ulaanbaatar April 2.

His episcopal consecration took place in Turin Aug. 8, with Cardinal Luis Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as his principal consecrator.

“I am very grateful to the Pope for this great grace that has granted me to meet him personally and to receive a word of encouragement for this mission,” Marengo told Vatican News after his Aug. 12 meeting with the pope.

Pope Francis is “very interested in the … the Church in Mongolia and of the Mongolian people in general. We know how much the pope cares about the entire Church, even those areas where there are not large numbers, indeed precisely where the Church is more in the minority,” he said.

At the Mass of episcopal consecration, Tagle said: “May your heart, your words, your smiles whisper Jesus to the people, the poor, the suffering, the steppe, the rivers, the eternal blue skies of Mongolia.”

“A bishop can only boast of the compassionate love of Jesus,” Tagle added.

Marengo was born in northern Italy’s Piedmont region and grew up in Turin. He studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and later obtained a license and doctorate from the Pontifical Urbaniana University.

While serving as a Consolata missionary in Mongolia, Marengo established a new catechesis program. He told CNA in 2014 that the program sought to form young adults into future catechists by providing lessons in theology and the Church and its mission.

Mongolia has a population of 1,300 Catholics in a country of more than 3 million people. The Prefecture Apostolic of Ulaanbaatar serves the entire country.

“I believe being a bishop in Mongolia is very similar to the episcopal ministry of the early Church,” Marengo said. “The Church is a very small reality, it is a minority but there is this group of Mongolian faithful who have chosen, with great courage and also a sense of responsibility, to follow the Lord and become part of the Catholic Church.”

The first modern mission to Mongolia was in 1922 and was entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But under a communist government, religious expression was soon thereafter suppressed, until 1992.

In 2002, the Ulaanbaatar mission was elevated to the present apostolic prefecture. The mission’s superior, the late Fr. Wenceslao Padilla, a priest of the Immaculate Heart congregation, was appointed prefect, and was consecrated a bishop the following year. Padilla died in September 2018. Mongolia’s first native priest was ordained in 2016.

Marengo told Vatican News that because Mongolia’s Catholic community is so small it is especially important to pay attention to interreligious dialogue and the cultural traditions of the Mongolian people.

“It means dedicating time to know and study the language, to refine those tools that allow us to enter into a true dialogue with people, to understand their points of reference, their history, their cultural and religious roots,” he said. “And at the same time, in all this, to be faithful to the Gospel itself … to offer with great humility, with great sincerity this precious pearl we have received which is the Gospel of the Lord.”

The new bishop chose “Respicite ad eum et illuminamini” as his episcopal motto, which means “Look to him and you will be radiant.”

Marengo expects to return to Mongolia in September if coronavirus restrictions allow.

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