Prayers in Italy for the abandoned Catholic mission in Afghanistan
An Italian missionary priest who was forced to flee Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US forces and the takeover of the country by the Taliban continues to pray for those left behind in the abandoned Catholic mission.
“I send you my Christmas greetings with the same image and the same Gospel quote that I used seven years ago, in 2014, when I was about to leave for Kabul. This year, having returned by force in Italy, I can repeat with the Magi: “We saw his star in the East!”. Merry Christmas! Pray for Afghanistan! ” said Father Giovanni Scalese, 66, reports the Fides news agency.
Father Scalese said the Barnabites had not forgotten the Afghan mission as he sent Christmas greetings to people in the Taliban-ruled country with special prayers.
The priest, a member of the Clerics Regular of Saint Paul (the Barnabites) and head of the Catholic mission in Afghanistan, returned to Rome on August 25.
The priest was accompanied by five Missionaries of Charity nuns and 14 orphaned and disabled children and young adults in their care.
Like the only Catholic parish in Afghanistan, the Sisters’ Center closed, the Chapel of Our Lady of Divine Providence, located at the Italian Embassy, where the papal mission was located.
We thank the Lord for the success of the operation. And I also thank all those who have prayed for us these days. Continue to pray for Afghanistan and its people
The Catholic mission, known as Missio sui iuris, has existed for a century after it was launched in 1921 with the permission of Afghan King Amanullah. It came shortly after Italy became one of the first countries to recognize Afghanistan after gaining independence from Britain.
Pope Pius XI entrusted the mission to the Barnabites. This continued uninterrupted until this year thanks to an agreement between the Afghan and Italian governments and the Holy See. In 2002, Pope John Paul II elevated the Barnabite mission to the rank of papal mission, Missio sui iuris.
Pope Francis appointed Father Scalese to head the mission in 2014.
The priest said that even during those tumultuous days which led to his evacuation from Kabul to Rome, he continued to pray for Afghanistan.
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” Mission accomplished. I arrived this afternoon at Fiumicino airport with five nuns and 14 disabled children they were looking after in Kabul. We thank the Lord for the success of the operation. And I also thank all those who have prayed for us these days. Continue to pray for Afghanistan and its people, ”he said after arriving in Rome.
The Afghans, who were staff and family members of the Pro Bambini Association in Kabul, which ran a daycare center for disabled children, were welcomed by various religious congregations through the efforts of the Barnabites.
Efforts are underway to resettle the Afghan refugees, mostly family members from the Italian detachment in Kabul, who arrived separately in Rome.
In Afghanistan, the papal mission was limited to charitable and humanitarian activities, and the spiritual and pastoral responsibilities of Father Scalese were limited to foreigners. Due to sensitivities, the mission avoided any form of evangelism among the local population of the predominantly Muslim nation.
Before the Taliban takeover, there were around 10,000 to 12,000 Christians in Afghanistan, mostly converts to Islam. According to the US-based International Christian Concern (ICC), Christians mostly lived isolated lives, out of public view, to avoid persecution by extremist forces.
Denouncing Islam is seen as a disgrace both by conservative Afghan society and by radical groups like the Taliban. Converts can face dire consequences, including death, if their conversion is discovered.
The ICC has reported that many Christians have gone into hiding due to suspected threatening phone calls and door-to-door searches for Christians. Christian leaders called on the community to remain low-key in order to avoid Taliban targeting.
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