02/13/2007, 00.00
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A church open to the public still a ‘remote’ dream in Afghanistan

‘Missio sui iuris’ superior talks about the growing number of Catholic expatriates attending his church. He hopes to see the existing mother church inside the Italian Embassy in Kabul widened. The prospect of a Christian place of worship outside diplomatic missions or military camps remains however virtually impossible.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – Afghanistan’s expatriate Catholic community is growing and its pastor, Fr Giuseppe Moretti, would like to see the “existing mother church widened.” The place of worship itself has stood inside the compound of the Italian Embassy since it was built in the 1930s. And it is also very likely that it will stay that way because there is little hope that any church can be built outside foreign compounds or diplomatic missions.

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr Moretti, missio sui iuris superior to Afghanistan, described how Christians are able to worship today in what is still in many ways Taliban country. He explained that “in addition to the historic church in the Italian Embassy, there is a multifunctional centre under construction inside the Italian compound in Herat where the holy mass can be celebrated. Until it is finished religious services are performed under a tent.”

Like Italy’s base in Heart, other military bases have chapels. Some like that of Canada also have a mosque for Afghan soldiers.

In Kabul’s Camp Invicta the church is actually in brick and mortar, separate from other buildings.

“Last December 8 a short circuit virtually destroyed the church. But it was rebuilt, better and more beautiful than before,” Fr Moretti said.

Other foreign military contingents operating in Afghanistan like the French, the Portuguese, the Americans and the Greeks have a chapel in their own camps.

“Afghans working with foreigners are glad to see that Westerners have a place of worship to profess their faith,” he added. “It is a reason for greater respect on the part of the population”.

Despite all the obstacles, Fr Moretti’s dream of seeing a Catholic church open to the public has not died. In 1992 an agreement in principle had been reached when a representative of the last pro-Communist government under Najibullah met the missio sui iuris superior with plans to build a church. The evolution of Afghanistan’s political situation with the renewed civil war, the Taliban takeover and the US invasion prevented those plans from being implemented.

“Who knows when it will happen? Maybe in a century,” the Barnabite priest said. “But fortunately God’s timing is not ours. I’d be happy just to see the existing mother church widened because of the growing number of faithful.”

About 150 people now attend Sunday mass in a place built for a maximum of 100.

“The community of faithful, all foreigners, is very lively,” Fr Moretti said. “Just last week I was asked when Ash Wednesday would be celebrated. That is a sign of great interest, let us hope.”

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