BY DANIEL LINDBERGH LANG
JAN 24, 2023
ULAANBAATAR: A team of 12 teenagers travelled all night by train for a sports competition here on Dec 28 – not realising that the following day they would surprise themselves at the closing ceremony of the 30th Anniversary of Catholicism in Mongolia Sports Day.
The games’ Most Valuable Player award went to their boys volleyball team’s substitute player – Temuunzaya Zoljargal, a 14-year-old girl.
There were six boys in the delegation from the Catholic Church of Divine Mercy in the city of Erdenet. Delegation leader 16-year-old John Buyantogtokh had gone to take part in the table-tennis games, leaving five of them for basketball.
A problem came during volleyball when one of the five needed to be substituted and after an appeal by the players, Temuunzaya was allowed to play. Her skills earned her the award.
As a surprise, the team decided to play basketball. They had not planned to play but signed up for it just one day before the competition.
“Even though it was the day before the competition, we could register for basketball. I thought, ‘Why not?’,” said Buyantogtokh. “They didn’t practise but they played pretty well.”
The Erdenet athletes were among the youngest in the games – aged between 12 and 18 – and they travelled 328km to get here. It was the furthest any team had to travel for the competition.
The competition held on Dec 29 was open to Catholics aged 16 to 30 from the nine parishes here, Erdenet and Darkhan. The event in the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral’s Don Bosco Vocational Training Center saw around 90 participants in six teams competing in men’s and women’s volleyball, basketball and table tennis.
“When I first heard the news (that there would be a competition), I was so excited,” said Buyantogtokh. “I immediately started to gather team members from my parish.” He had been waiting for three years for the potential competition which was first announced in 2019 yet postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic.
“God allowed people to create this sports competition so we can connect with others who have the same interests,” he said. “With the help of God, I met a lot of new people.”
Fr Bernard Kambala, who comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been serving at that parish since 2018, said, “Love and respect are some of the core values in the context of first evangelisation such as Mongolia. Love is the first principle of incarnation. God became man out of love. That is the message that we also bring to people around the world. There is no evangelisation without love. The evangelisation is not to be imposed upon people. It is a message of love carried with respect for people’s cultures, their freedom to accept or not the Gospel. That is why respect and love seem important in this context for me.”
“Our parish priest Fr Bernard has supported us financially to make this adventure possible,” he said.
“These words should fuel our commitment,” said the priest. “Love & Respect” (“Хайр & Хүндэтгэл”) adorned the jerseys of the Erdenet team.
The sports competition was one of the events held to mark the 30th anniversary of the Catholic Church in Mongolia.
On Dec. 26, the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral rector Fr Stephanus Kim received a gift from Bishop Giorgio Cardinal Marengo at the conclusion of Mass. After the Feast of St Stephen Mass, missionaries enjoyed a celebratory dinner and dance. Young adult volunteers assisted.
On Dec 31, the parishioners and pilgrims commemorated the Feast of the Holy Family. The late Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, Mongolia’s first bishop, had dedicated the Catholic Church in Mongolia to the Holy Family.
The following day on the feast of the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cardinal Marengo announced that the year 2023 would be dedicated to the Mother of God.