Roughly the size of Alaska, Mongolia has five people per square mile. About 30% of its population is nomadic or semi-nomadic. Bordering Russia to the north and China to the south, Mongolia is also the second-largest landlocked country in the world with the vast Gobi Desert covering one-third of its territory.
During the nearly 10-hour flight, the papal plane passed over more than 10 countries, including Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and China.
The pope sent a message to the leaders of each of these countries, including Chinese President Xi Jinping. Pope Francis told the Chinese leader that he was praying for the well-being of the nation of China and asked for the “divine blessings of unity and peace.”
The 86-year-old pope will spend the first day in the Mongolian capital resting at the apostolic prefecture. His first public event will be a welcome ceremony on Sept. 2 in the city’s Sükhbaatar Square with President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh. He will later meet with the country’s small Catholic community in the city’s Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Mongolia is home to 1,450 Catholics, which is far fewer than 1% of the country’s 3.3 million people. The Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar, a missionary area that does not have enough Catholics to warrant a diocese, has jurisdiction over the entirety of Mongolia.