The Mongol invasions nearly conquered Europe and while they postdate Genghis Khan and were carried out by his descendants, it still seems like an odd choice to praise Genghis.
Under the towering statue of 13th-century warrior Genghis Khan, Pope Francis was not greeted by hordes of people in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar on Saturday.
Rather than the throngs of thousands he’s used to, about 200 of the faithful from one of the world’s smallest and newest Catholic communities enthusiastically greeted the pontiff in the city’s central Sükhbaatar Square, where he sat with Mongolia’s President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh.
Francis delivered his remarks to the president, diplomats and cultural leaders at the state palace, where he praised Mongolia’s tradition of religious freedom, noting that such tolerance existed both before and during the expansion of the Mongol Empire over vast swaths of the world.
“The fact that the empire could embrace such distant and varied lands over the centuries bears witness to the remarkable ability of your ancestors to acknowledge the outstanding qualities of the peoples present in its immense territory and to put those qualities at the service of a common development,” Francis said, according to The Associated Press. “This model should be valued and re-proposed in our own day,” he said.
Lamenting an “earth devastated by countless conflicts” and calling for a renewal of respect for international law, the pontiff also referred to “Pax Mongolica,” Latin for Mongol peace, a period of relative stability over Eurasia during the 13th and 14th centuries among those living in the Mongol Empire’s conquered territories.
The Mongol treatment of religious minorities is somewhat complicated. There was a certain amount of religious freedom and tolerance, on the other hand there were also brutal and ruthless invasions. The Catholic Church benefited in some ways from increased access to Asia, but centers of Christian life were also devastated.