Pope Francis entrusted his apostolic journey to Mongolia to the Virgin Mary at the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Wednesday. Thursday, the pope is traveling to Mongolia, where during his Aug. 31–Sept. 4 trip he will bless a statue of Our Lady known as “Heavenly Mother,” which was miraculously discovered in a landfill in the northern region of that country by a Buddhist woman.
Father Andrew Tin Nguyen, SDB, the parish priest of Mary Help of Christians Church in the city of Darkhan, shared with CNA that the woman who found the statue can’t recall the exact year she discovered it. However, she insists that it was even before the missionaries arrived in Darkhan 18 years ago.
“This discovery might signify something profound, perhaps a sign from our Blessed Lady Mary that she had been present here before us, preparing for our arrival. She appeared in the humblest and poorest of places, which could signify her desire for us to care for the poorest among us,” he reflected.
The statue was bestowed with the title “Heavenly Mother” by Pope Francis himself. In an interview with catholic-kazakhstan.org, Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, explained that in January, he presented various titles collected from the Mongolian faithful to Pope Francis. The pope chose “Heavenly Mother” as the most fitting title, recognizing the significance of heaven in Mongolian culture.
According to Nguyen’s account, the people of Darkhan used to collect recyclable materials such as plastic and metal to make a living. Among these individuals was a lady named Tsetsegee, who had spent many years scavenging in landfills. One day, as she sifted through the refuse, she stumbled upon a statue carefully tucked away in some clothing. When she asked those around her if anyone wanted to keep it, no one expressed any interest. Captivated by the statue’s beauty, Tsetsegee decided to take it home. When some Missionary Sisters of Charity visited her family, the story came to light, and Tsetsegee decided to offer the statue to Mary Help of Christians Parish. Initially, it was kept in the parish office until Marengo became aware of it.
On Dec. 8, 2022, the cardinal enthroned the statue in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Ulaanbaatar, consecrating Mongolia to the Virgin Mary. A few months after this solemn consecration, he visited Tsetsegee in Darkhan, as she was too ill to participate at the time. In an interview with catholic-kazakhstan.org, the cardinal explained that Tsetsegee felt so ill as she was nearing death and expressed, “If I am alive now, it is thanks to that Lady.” She requested to be baptized, feeling a profound bond with “that Lady” whom she had once discovered in a landfill.
Within the Catholic community, devotion to Mary has been wholeheartedly embraced. In Mongolia, mothers hold a special place in people’s hearts, both within families and in society.
“In our parish, it’s common for men to come to the parish and first pay their respects to Mary by lighting a candle, writing intentions on pieces of paper, or making donations at the box in front of her statue. To me, this reflects remarkable faith and trust in her,” Nguyen shared.
At the time when the statue was found, the Mongolian Catholic community consisted of just a handful of individuals, numbering only 14 in 1995. However, according to the latest statistics in 2023, the Catholic population has grown to approximately 1,500 members, spread across eight parishes.
As a testament to the growing devotion to the Virgin Mary and the deepening faith of the community, Marengo declared 2023 a Marian Year.