05/23/2005, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Catholic presence expanding, Jesuit NGO and Sisters of Mother Teresa to arrive

The Jesuit Refugees Service and the Sisters of Mother Teresa are waiting for the government's go-ahead. The Little Sisters of Jesus have been present in the country for the past 50 years. Caritas Italy funds a school for and run by the hearing and speech impaired.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – Despite growing security concerns in Afghanistan, Catholic involvement in the country is expanding.

The Jesuit Refugees Service and some religious orders like the Sisters of Mother Teresa are scheduled to arrive very soon. Local sources say that once government authorisation is granted, they will move in and begin operating.

Catholic groups will focus on the mentally-challenged and the hearing- and speech-impaired as well as provide basic education and poverty relief in this overwhelmingly Muslim country (over 90 per cent).

The newcomers will join the Little Sisters of Jesus who have been working in Kabul for the past 50 years and who were even 'respected by the Talibans". Currently, they are four.

According to Fr Giuseppe Moretti, parish priest in the only Catholic church in the country (inside the Italian Embassy), the Sisters provide a "real and constructive commitment" to the local population.

"Their presence," the Barnabite priest told AsiaNews, "was not interrupted even by the Taliban regime. Even I had to leave in 1994 after an attack. [But] they were an extraordinary Christian witness of humility and courage."

There are five national groups inside Caritas internationalis in Afghanistan: Italy, the US, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany.

Funding for a school for hearing- and speech-impaired children is among the latest projects sponsored by Caritas Italy. The school itself will be run the Afghan National Association of the Deaf, which is one of the few organisations for the disabled managed by the disabled themselves—in this case, by a group of hearing and speech impaired teachers.

The school is located on the southern outskirts of Kabul. It will provide education to about 110 children and will employ about 20 teachers and support staff.

Caritas and ANAD are also involved in training teaching staff for the whole country.

The total annual budget for this project is about € 30,000 (US$ 40,000) but it will "focus on two districts in province of Ghowr", one of the most inaccessible places in the country that has seen plenty of human rights violations.

The various projects seek to ensure food security, improved farming and school building.

Recently, the Caritas-backed "Associazione pro bambini di Kabul" (Association in favour of Kabul children) arrived in the Afghan capital where it is waiting for the government's green light to start its operations. It is led by members of 15 religious congregations, both male and female, with the goal of providing help to mentally challenged children.

This month, Father Moretti, who is Superior of the missio sui iuris of Afghanistan, welcomed Jesuit humanitarian aid workers who are set to go to the city of Heart, capital of the homonymous province on the border with Iran.

The government should shortly authorise the Jesuit Refugees Service which will focus on education and social services.

Father Moretti said that the Sisters of Mother Teresa should also soon arrive in Kabul. (MA)

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