“We are living days of great apprehension as we await what happens,” says Barnabite Fr. Giovanni Scalese.
The priest who is responsible for the Catholic Church’s presence in Afghanistan asked for prayer just before the Taliban took control of the country’s capital, Kabul.
“We are living days of great apprehension as we await what happens,” Barnabite Fr. Giovanni Scalese, head of Missiosui iuris in Afghanistan, told Vatican Radio on Saturday. “My appeal to the listeners of Vatican Radio is to pray…pray, pray, pray for Afghanistan! Thank you.”
The Christian presence in Afghanistan goes back to the Church of the East, but today is very small. Catholics might number in the mere hundreds in the mostly Islamic country. The only Catholic church, established in the 1930s, is the chapel at the Italian embassy in Kabul. The Clerics Regular of Saint Paul — commonly called the Barnabite Fathers — arrived in 1922.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II established a mission sui iuris for Afghanistan, just months after the U.S. led invasion of the country in the wake of 9/11 and the toppling of the Taliban. This independent mission is a kind of missionary diocesan jurisdiction, somewhat like an apostolic prefecture and an apostolic vicariate, in an area with very few Catholics.
The Taliban, which had harbored the architects of the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack on the United States, rapidly retook Afghanistan after President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces and local Afghan forces were overwhelmed.
Caritas Italiana, which has worked in Afghanistan since the 1990s, said that the few priests, men and women religious who are in Kabul are preparing to evacuate. It said the Christian community in recent years has served the poorest and most vulnerable in Afghan society.
In the early 2000s, Caritas Italiana supported a large program of emergency aid, rehabilitation and development, the construction of four schools in the Ghor valley, the return of 483 refugee families to the Panshir valley with the construction of 100 traditional housing for the poorest families and assistance to disabled people.
Caritas said the instability of the present situation will lead to the suspension of its activities, with the possibility of a presence in the future an open question.
Since the weekend, hundreds of Afghans have flooded Kabul’s airport, desperate to catch a flight out of the country and avoid the harsh Islamic rule of the Taliban. Land crossings across the border are also expected, and Caritas spoke of “a growing mass of refugees” in neighboring countries.