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Francis becomes first pope to visit Mongolia

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Ulaanbaatar: Pope Francis has arrived in Ulaanbaatar, marking the first time that a Catholic Pope has visited Mongolia and along-awaited trip to what he describes as the "heart of Asia."

The 86-year-old head of the Catholic Church landed in the Mongolian capital on Friday and was received by Foreign Minister Battsetseg Batmunkh.

Upon his arrival, the pontiff was greeted by a young woman offering him a cup of dried yoghurt — a Mongolian speciality and a common welcome gesture in the country.

Francis is set to stay in Mongolia until Monday. After an overnight flight, he had scheduled a day of rest on Friday.

Kicking off his trip officially on Saturday, he is due to meet Mongolia's political leaders. Afterwards, he is set to give a public address and meet clergymen.

A meeting between different religious leaders is also scheduled,which will also be attended by the pastor of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia has a relatively small Catholic community, with around 1,500 Catholics and a total of 25 priests among the more than 3 million inhabitants. The country's main religions are Buddhism and Shamanism. A core part of his trip is therefore also about dialogue between the religions.

The small democratic state, flanked by superpowers Russia and China, is geographically important for the Pope, especially as he has been a vocal arbiter of peace in Russia's war on Ukraine.

Francis says his trip would allow him to "embrace a Church that is small in number but alive in faith and great in charity."

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