01/30/2004, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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A Church of the catacombs, made up of only foreigners

by Giuseppe Caffulli

An interview with Fr. Giuseppe Moretti, head of the missio sui iuris in Afghanistan

Fr. Giuseppe Moretti is a sixty-six year-old Barnabite priest from the Italy's Le Marche region. He has been following the action in Afghanistan since 1977. From 1990-94 he was in Kabul, where he served as the country's only Catholic priest. Since May 2002, he has headed the missio sui iuris in Afghanistan.

During his interview (appearing not in its entirety in Mondo e Missione, while in its full version in the AsiaNews February issue), Fr. Moretti paints a difficult picture for Christian missions in a country that still bears the marks of Islamic fundamentalism.     

 

Afghanistan's constitution has been approved. Are there reasons to be concerned about religious minorities, particularly Christians?

With respect to constitutional charters drawn up in the past, the current one is nothing new. The principles continue to be the same, even with a change in government and forms of institutions. Hence, in terms of the law, Christian minorities, which are all foreigners, will be able to continue practicing their faith as has been the case until today:  no evangelizing or public religious celebrations are allowed. It is a Christian faith of the catacombs days, even if it has been more respected and than tolerated. Notwithstanding, I think it is necessary to continue along the path of dialog, respect and mutual understanding.    

 

Are freedom of expression and enterprise sufficiently guaranteed?

In a country that has just come out of 23 years of war and a series of more or less authoritarian regimes, one must not expect an immediate changeover to full democracy. It is must occur gradually. One mustn't either forget Afghanistan's complex ethnic makeup, which translates into various uses, customs and traditions, despite the unifying elements of the Islamic faith and opposition to all foreign governments. There is already a certain freedom of expression, as seen in English language newspapers published in Kabul.  

 

Will it be possible to build other Christian churches?

The Italian Embassy's church is still the only officially recognized place of worship in all Afghanistan. For the time being it is unthinkable to imagine other churches in other cites, due to the aforementioned reasons. Protestants have areas dedicated for worship in their centers, but we're speaking here in terms of privates places of worship. Until there is freedom of religion in its true sense, the only Christians in Afghanistan will be foreigners.  Moreover, a future foreseeable Afghan Christian community is known only to God. This doesn't mean that Afghans don't have an intellectual curiosity for Christianity. They dare not go too near it, since there is always the insurmountable barrier of the shariah (Islamic law).  

 

What's the word since your return to Afghanistan to yours go?

John Paul II raised the country to the status of missio sui iuris, with his decree on May 16 2002. The first year, pastorally speaking, was very difficult. For months on end Sunday mass was attended only by a dozen faithful, including four Little Sisters of Jesus nuns living in Kabul. Now, however, thank God there is an abundance of faithful in attendance on Sundays. So much so that the chapel seems to be ever smaller…But, and there is one "but' …The international Catholic community is mostly Asian, African and Latin American. Even a great number of Protestants come to our Sunday masses. Europeans are few and far between, save in commendable exceptional cases.  Maybe Europeans don't need God!
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