Vatican City • When Pope Francis travels to Mongolia this week, he will in some ways be completing a mission begun by the 13th-century Pope Innocent IV, who dispatched emissaries east to ascertain the intentions of the rapidly expanding Mongol Empire and beseech its leaders to halt the bloodshed and convert.

Those medieval exchanges between Roman pope and Mongolian khan were full of bellicose demands for submission and conversion, with each side claiming to be acting in the name of God, according to texts of the letters that survive.

But the exchanges also showed mutual respect at a time when the Catholic Church was waging Crusades and the Mongol Empire was conquering lands as far west as Hungary in what would become the largest contiguous land empire in world history.

Officially, there are only 1,450 Catholics in Mongolia and the Catholic Church has only had a sanctioned presence since 1992, after Mongolia shrugged off its Soviet-allied communist government and enshrined religious freedom in its constitution. Francis last year upped the Mongolian church’s standing when he made a cardinal out of its leader, the Italian missionary Giorgio Marengo.

“It is amazing (for the pope) to come to a country that is not known to the world for its Catholicism,” said Uugantsetseg Tungalag, a Catholic who works with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in a nursing home in the capital. “When the pope visits us, other countries will learn that it has been 30 years since Catholicism came to Mongolia.”

The Mongol Empire under its famed founder Genghis Khan was known for tolerating people of different faiths among those it conquered, and Francis will likely emphasize that tradition of religious coexistence when he presides over an interfaith meeting Sunday. … Some 800 years later, Francis won’t be testing new diplomatic waters or seeking to proselytize Mongolia’s mostly Buddhist people when he arrives in the capital Ulaanbaatar Friday for a four-day visit. …

Invited to Francis’ interfaith event are Mongolian Buddhists, Jewish, Muslim and Shinto representatives as well as members of Christian churches that have established a presence in Mongolia in the past 30 years, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially claims more than 12,500 members in Mongolia in 24 congregations.

In a message to Mongolians ahead of his visit, Francis emphasized their interfaith traditions and said he was traveling to the “heart of Asia” as a brother to all.