By Courtney Mares
Religious sisters from the Missionaries of Charity and 14 disabled children from an orphanage in Afghanistan arrived safely on Wednesday at Rome’s international airport.
A Catholic priest and five sisters from the order founded by Mother Teresa arrived on one of two evacuation flights from Kabul that landed in Rome on Aug. 25 carrying a total of 277 people.
Fr. Giovanni Scalese, the ecclesiastical superior of the Catholic mission in Afghanistan, also arrived on the flight. He spent eight years in Kabul, offering daily Mass for foreign residents in the city at the only Catholic church in Afghanistan, located inside of the Italian embassy.
“I would never have returned to Italy without these children,” Fr. Scalese told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
“We could not leave them there.”
The children, aged between six to 20 years old, were residents of an orphanage founded in 2006 by the Missionaries of Charity in Kabul, which has now been forced to close due to the Taliban’s takeover of the city.
Sr. Bhatti Shahnaz, another Catholic religious sister who arrived in Rome on the evacuation flight, also worked with disabled children in Afghanistan with her community, the Sisters of Charity of St. Jeanne Antide.
“The 50 intellectually disabled children we looked after are still there,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Fr. Matteo Sanavio, the president of the NGO For the Children of Kabul, was at the airport to welcome the Catholic arrivals from Afghanistan.
“The first moments we shared were smiles under our masks,” Sanavio told Vatican News.
“We were able to embrace, and the first words we said to each other were: ‘We praise the Lord because He has done great things.’”
Italy has welcomed 2,659 evacuated Afghans, about a third of them children, according to the Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini.
Fr. Sanavio said: “We really must thank the Italian forces for their work and dedication, for everything … They managed to bring the nuns to safety, these little seeds of Christian charity present in Afghanistan, and above all, we must thank them for having brought our children, those of the Missionaries of Charity, who have severe disabilities.”
The priest said that his charitable association planned to shift its focus to assisting the Afghan families who have relocated to Italy.
“Our original mission dedicated to children continues,” he said. “Even if they are now in Italy, they are still ‘children of Kabul.’”
Fr. Scalese said that he hoped to return to Afghanistan to resume his mission if conditions allow.
“It has been a difficult few years and I realize it could only end this way. But I am not too pessimistic. Afghanistan could find its own stability. Let’s wait to see what kind of government will be formed,” he said.
In the meantime, Sanavio said that the Holy See would need to evaluate the situation of the Catholic Church in Afghanistan after the evacuation of the Catholic priests and religious sisters from the country.
“All of these seeds of charity might seem lost today to the human eye, but — as I like to think and say — if the seed that falls to the ground does not die, it does not bear fruit,” he said.
“Now, what has been sown by the religious over so many years has remained there and we hope and pray that it will bear fruit.”