10/12/2005, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Nuncio to Pakistan visiting Kabul

For local Catholics, closer diplomatic ties between Afghanistan and the Holy See are possible; they are hopeful that a "public" church may be built. Vatican envoy urges humanitarian workers to bear witness "discretely but truthfully" to the Gospel and engage in a constructive inter-faith dialogue.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – Mgr Alessandro D'Errico, the Papal Nuncio to Pakistan, ends his informal visit to Kabul today. The event raises hopes that Afghanistan and the Holy See might establish diplomatic relations and kindle the spirit of Christian witness—in itself a great feat in this exclusively Muslim country.

Mgr Giuseppe Moretti, who is responsible of the missio sui iuris in Afghanistan, speaks about these expectations to AsiaNews; about his dream that a "public" church might be built outside the Italian Embassy, the only location in the country that has a Catholic chapel; and about the latest historic events that make such hopes and dreams possible.

For three days the Nuncio was the guest of the Italian contingent stationed in the Afghan capital. There he celebrated Sunday mass, surprised by the large number of faithful in attendance.

"Since 2003, the number of Sunday worshippers has gone up from about 10 people to almost 100. Even though we are expatriates and no Afghans come, the size in itself is amazing," said Father Moretti.

The Nuncio himself was quite excited by the vigour of this Church. "Since the number of worshippers has gone up, our small chapel is no longer sufficient. For some time we have been hoping for a "public" church and the dream is not entirely unrealisable," the Barnabite priest said.

But the absence of diplomatic relations with the Vatican and the fact all Afghans are Muslim still stand in the way of building a church.

Never the less, Father Moretti is hopeful. "Lately, we have seen some miracles," he said referring to some signs of warming relations between the Vatican and the Kabul government.

On the one hand, the Afghan government has shown signs that it is willing to engage the Holy See. For instance, President Hamid Karzai attended John Paul II's funeral, a historic event that perhaps was not adequately highlighted, and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah took part in a meeting in Italy organised by Italian Catholic 'Communion and Liberation' movement in August of this year. On the other, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his gratitude to countries like Afghanistan without diplomatic ties with the Holy See for sending representatives to his predecessor's funeral. And in the same spirit, he expressed hope that such ties might one day be established. Similarly, "Mgr D'Errico related remarks made by Afghanistan's Ambassador to Islamabad (Pakistan)," according to which "it would be an honour to welcome the Sisters of Mother Teresa to his country". The Missionaries of Charity have in fact applied for a visa to set up operations in Afghanistan.

Father Moretti stressed that these are "important but initial steps" and that we must restrain from thinking that we made some "triumphal breakthrough".

"The seeds have not been scattered on barren soil," he said, "but the road is still uphill."

Yesterday in Afghanistan the Nuncio met Caritas officials, whose work he praised. He asked them to better coordinate their activity with local Church officials and those in Pakistan.

By way of conclusion, Mgr D'Errico urged members of the Catholic organisation to continue their work "discretely" bearing witness to their Christian identity but without hiding it.

He also expressed hope that an "inter-faith dialogue might get underway, one that is serious and constructive, and not simply academic".

In yesterday's meeting, the quake that devastated neighbouring Pakistan was not on the agenda, but "the Nuncio was in a hurry to return to see in person the situation". Meanwhile, officials with Caritas Afghanistan have already left for the most affected areas."

Mgr D'Errico's first visit to Afghanistan was in 2003 on the 70the anniversary if the Catholic chapel. 

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