By Hannah Brockhaus
A Catholic charitable organization working in Afghanistan said Sunday it fears for the safety of Christians in the country, and that the group may need to suspend its activities as instability increases.
Caritas Italiana, a charity of the Italian Catholic bishops, has been present in Afghanistan since the 1990s. In a press release Aug. 15, the organization said its current focus in Afghanistan is helping vulnerable minors.
“But the instability of the situation will lead to the suspension of all activities,” the statement said, adding that “fears are growing about the possibility of maintaining a presence even in the future, as well as for the safety of the few Afghans of Christian belief.”
Caritas Italiana also said the few Catholic priests and religious in Afghanistan are also being left with no choice but to leave.
Taliban insurgents have taken over many cities in Afghanistan in the past week following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.
With the collapse of Afghanistan’s government, Taliban fighters seized the capital city of Kabul Aug. 15, taking control of the presidential palace and declaring the war in Afghanistan to be over.
The Kabul airport has reportedly been in chaos since Sunday, as Afghan men and women rushed runways in an attempt to flee the country.
The Christian community is very small in the Islamic country, where Afghan people can be ostracized or can even face violence and death for professing the Christian faith. In 2018, there were an estimated 200 Catholics in the country.
There is a single Catholic Church, located in the Italian embassy in Kabul, which is operated under the Catholic mission sui juris of Afghanistan.
“The Christian community is a small but significant community which in recent years has shown attention towards the poorest and most fragile,” Caritas Italiana said.
The organization stated that “after a twenty-year war of incalculable human costs and billions of euros in expenditure, the withdrawal of the U.S. military is leaving the country in a tragic void.”
“As always, the weakest will pay the highest price, already in the tens of thousands fleeing the combat zones, while the Taliban are now in the capital, Kabul.”
“Together with the staff of the embassies, even the very few priests, men and women religious who are in Kabul are preparing for their forced return,” the charity said.
Pope Francis asked for prayers for the people of Afghanistan after praying the Angelus, a traditional Marian prayer, on Sunday.
“I ask all of you to pray with me to the God of peace so that the clamor of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue,” he said. “Only thus can the battered population of that country – men, women, elderly and children – return to their own homes, and live in peace and security, in total mutual respect.”
Caritas Italiana said it is assessing the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan at the Afghanistan border.
“In these hours, a growing mass of refugees are fleeing the war zones, increasing the pressure in the direction of the surrounding countries,” it said. “Even Western countries will find themselves facing increasing pressure from people fleeing this country.”
The Italian charity said in the 2000s it supported a large program of emergency aid, rehabilitation, and development in Afghanistan, including the construction of four schools and 100 houses, and the return of 483 refugee families to the Panshir valley.