Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - "The difficulties and inner conquests of Catholics in Afghanistan are the mirror of those experienced by the communities in our Western world. Obliged to recover the essential of Christian life, immersed in a population, with a large majority of other religion or non-believer, they live in a climate of witness without ostentation, of dialogue with life, beyond wars and attacks, rediscovering one’s own identity in an authentic faith": this is what Barnabite Fr. Giovanni Rizzi, professor of Theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University and author of the books "80 years in Afghanistan" and "The Parish Priests of Kabul: from king to the Talibans", dedicated to the 80 years of his Barnabite confreres in Afghanistan.
Fr. Giovanni says: "It was 1921 when King Amanullah wanted to please Western diplomats, who were asking for Catholic religious assistance. Italy was immediately involved, among the first western countries to politically recognize the independence of Afghanistan from England. It was then Pius XI who decided to turn to the Barnabites". An agreement was signed between the Afghan, Italian government and the Holy See, which was never revoked over the years, which provided for a single real condition: to avoid any form of proselytism among the almost entirely Muslim local population. In 2002, what was initially a simple spiritual assistance within an embassy, was elevated to Missio sui iuris by John Paul II.
Speaking to Fides, Fr. Rizzi underlines that "to better understand the sense of the presence of the Barnabites in Afghanistan, it is useful to look at the biblical image of Saint Paul in Malta, in the Acts of the Apostles (28,1-10): that land was not part of the pastoral plans of the apostle, who landed there after a shipwreck. And in fact there was no explicit evangelization of the natives of the place by Paul. They were pagans, deeply tied to their religious conceptions, incompatible with the Christian faith". However, explains Father Giovanni, their generosity towards the shipwrecked was exemplary and, in turn, Paul gave them what they could: he healed the sick. "The episode is prophetic. Until then - he continues - any relationship between the Christian missionary proclamation and the various forms of pagan religiosity had proved to be disastrous. In Malta, however, another path suddenly opens up: the dialogue of life, where everyone gives what he has and receives what the other can give. It is a new frontier of the mission". In the same perspective, observes Fr. Rizzi, the presence of the Barnabites in Kabul must be understood: "My confreres are living the same experience as Paul in Malta: perhaps they would never have chosen the mission in Afghanistan, where one cannot evangelise. Still, it has always been possible for them to form a dialogue of life, in a dynamic in which they received and gave so much. This is what I learned by collecting their testimonies".
In Afghanistan, a 99% Muslim country, to date, there is a single parish, based in the Italian Embassy in Kabul, attended by about a hundred people, almost exclusively members of the international diplomatic community.
In addition, the inter-congregational religious organization of "pro-Kabul Children" and the Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta are operative. Until 2016 also the Little Sisters of Charles de Foucauld lived in the Afghan capital. The Indian Jesuits of the Jesuit Refugee Service and other Christian-based organizations are also involved in social and educational works in the country.
The 2004 Constitution defines Afghanistan as an "Islamic Republic", while Article 2 of the Charter guarantees non-Muslims the right to freely exercise their religion within the limits of the laws in force. Article 3, subordinates the "conformity of all laws" to the principles and rules of the Islamic religion, thus making the Sharia, even without naming it, the main source of law. (LF) (Agenzia Fides, 11/12/2017)