Pope Francis' visit to Mongolia Aug. 31-Sept. 4 will make him the first pope to visit this Asian nation, which is home to one cardinal and some 1,300 Catholics.
The focus of the visit will be encounters with leaders of government and civil society and meetings with local Catholics. There will be an ecumenical and interreligious gathering as well as a Mass and the inauguration of a charity center.
Mongolia is a large country landlocked between Russia and China. A former communist nation, the country maintains close cultural, political and military ties with Russia and China is its largest economic partner.
The pope's trip, therefore, will be strategic to the Vatican, which has strained relations with neighboring China -- primarily due to apparent violations of an agreement between China and the Vatican which outlines procedures for the appointment of bishops -- and which has been seeking ways to halt the war linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
In August 2022, Pope Francis named Italian Bishop Giorgio Marengo, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to be the first cardinal based in Mongolia. Cardinal Marengo has served in Mongolia since 2003 and at 49 years old is the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.
Of the country's more than 3.3 million people, about 1,300 are Catholic. About 52% are Buddhist, about 3% are Muslim, 2.5% are Shamanist and 1.3% are Christian. About 40.6% of the population identifies as "none" when it comes to religious affiliation, according to the CIA Factbook.
The Catholic faith arrived in the 13th century during the Mongol empire, but it did not flourish and missionary work came to a halt after a socialist republic was formed in the 1920s.
With the introduction of democracy in 1991, Catholic missionaries returned and diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Mongolia were established in 1992.
Here is the detailed schedule of the pope's trip released by the Vatican July 6. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Saving Time in parenthesis.
Thursday, Aug. 31 (Rome)
-- 6:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.) Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport.
Friday, Sept. 1 (Ulaanbaatar)
-- 10 a.m. (10 p.m. Aug. 31) Arrival at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar and official welcome.
Saturday, Sept. 2 (Ulaanbaatar)
-- 9 a.m. (9 p.m. Sept. 1) Welcome ceremony at Sükhbaatar Square.
-- 9:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. Sept. 1) Courtesy visit with President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh at the State Palace.
-- 10:20 a.m. (10:20 p.m. Sept. 1) Meeting with authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and local representatives in the Ikh Mongol hall at the palace. Speech by pope.
-- 11 a.m. (11 p.m. Sept. 1) Meeting with Gombojavyn Zandanshatar, chairman of Mongolia's parliament, the State Great Khural.
-- 11:10 a.m. (11:10 p.m. Sept. 1) Meeting with Prime Minister Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene.
-- 4 p.m. (4 a.m.) Meeting with bishops, priests, religious, missionaries and pastoral workers at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. Speech by pope.
Sunday, Sept. 3 (Ulaanbaatar)
-- 10 a.m. (10 p.m. Sept. 2) Ecumenical and interreligious meeting at the Hun Theater. Speech by pope.
-- 4 p.m. (4 a.m.) Mass at the Steppe Arena. Homily by pope.
Monday, Sept. 4 (Ulaanbaatar, Rome)
-- 9:30 a.m. (9 p.m. Sept. 3) Meeting with charity workers and the inauguration of the House of Mercy. Speech by pope.
-- 11:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m. Sept. 3) Farewell ceremony at Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar.
-- 12 p.m. (12 a.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.
-- 5:20 p.m. (11:20 a.m.) Arrival at Rome's Fiumicino airport.