10/12/2005, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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A "public" church in Afghanistan? The past offers hope for the present (Overview)

Compared to the past, European diplomats seem less interested in spiritual assistance.

The chapel inside the Italian Embassy in Kabul is the only Catholic Church in Afghanistan. It exists thanks too a long-lasting diplomatic effort that goes back to the 1920s when Italy became the only country with this privilege after it was the first country to recognise Afghanistan's independence in 1919. As a way to show its gratitude, the Afghan government asked how it could thank Italy. Rome responded asking for the right to build a place of spiritual assistance—in doing so it was making its own the demands of international technicians then living in the Afghan capital.

The Afghan government was much taken with the choice because Italy, instead of asking for valuable monopolies in the economic field—such as mineral exploration rights—had opted for a monopoly in matter of the spirit. Thus, a clause giving Italy the right to build a chapel within its embassy was included to Italian-Afghan treaty of 1921.

In the end, the actual pastoral work began in 1933 when the chapel international technicians had asked for was built.

Later, the first request to build a public church reached the person in charge of the missio sui iuris in Afghanistan in 1992. An official from the last pro-Communist government of Mohammad Najibullah went to see Fr Giuseppe Moretti with a sketch for a small compound that would be guaranteed immunity.

However, nothing came of it as the political situation in Afghanistan unravelled—the civil war escalated, the Talebans came to power and then lost it after the Us invasion.

Today the embassy's chapel is too small for the many faithful who attend—on Sunday's more than a hundred people can be seen crowding the Church.

Moreover, the current situation has raised hopes that a "public" church might be built yet. Kabul's small international Catholic community can only hope in a greater involvement by European diplomats on the issue.

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