The children will start a new life in Italy under the loving care of the religious sisters.
On August 25, 2021, a plane from Kabul landed on the tarmac of Rome’s Fiumicino airport. On board: 270 passengers, exhausted after hours of anguish. In just a few days, their lives were turned upside down with the chaotic withdrawal of American forces and the Taliban’s lightning offensive.
Everyone remembers the images of the Kabul airport besieged by thousands of Afghans fleeing the oppressive regime of the Taliban. Amidst the most total confusion, the embassies present on site strove to organize themselves to evacuate the maximum number of people. The Italian authorities were hard at work, among others; between August 13 and 27, they exfiltrated more than 5,000 people from Afghanistan.
“We’re devastated. Everything is over. There is no hope in Kabul.”
Among the 270 passengers arriving this past August 25, 14 children and young adults in wheelchairs were the first to walk through the doors of Fiumicino’s Terminal 5. They were between 6 and 20 years old, and disabled.
Bright-eyed and full of curiosity, they waited while nurses took their temperature. Beside them were their “guardian angels,” dressed in white and blue tunics: five nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Since May 2006, their community has been present in Afghanistan, where the sisters have been running an orphanage located in Kabul. There, they have been taking care of disabled children, abandoned by their parents and society. But with the arrival of the Taliban, the nuns had to abandon everything, leaving behind 15 years of missionary work with the poorest of the poor. It was heartbreaking.
“Our center no longer exists, it has been closed […] We’re devastated. Everything is over. There is no hope in Kabul,” said Sister Josè, 33 years old, originally from Madagascar, to the Italian daily La Repubblica.
Although they closed their orphanage with a heavy heart, there was no question of them abandoning the children. Together with the only active priest in Afghanistan, Italian Fr. Giovanni Scalese, they managed to get them on the evacuation list.
“I could never have returned to Italy without these children; we couldn’t leave them here,” the Barnabite missionary told La Repubblica. At the Rome airport, exhausted and with his Roman collar open, the priest sat next to the sisters, themselves surrounded by the children who laughed and smiled. A new life was beginning for them.
The five nuns and “their children,” 11 girls and three boys, are now staying at a Missionaries of Charity center in Tor Bella Monaca, a suburb of Rome. “It’s a real revolution,” a nun at the center, which had to rethink its logistics, told Vatican News.
Children full of tenderness
“These children also give us tenderness, relationships, in a different way than we think. They need us to relate to them and they give us the capacity to love; they expand our hearts to be able to love more,” she explains, before adding that “it’s the daily gestures of care that give unsuspected winds of joy and comfort.”
A dozen days after their arrival in Italy, the nuns and their orphans received a surprise visit. While the children were enjoying a snack, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Almoner, came to meet them with a medical team. The objective: to have them undergo COVID-19 tests in order to end their quarantine and allow them to really start their new life in Italy.