08/26/2021, 14.20
AFGHANISTAN – ITALY
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Fourteen disabled people and several nuns rescued from the chaos of Kabul

by Chiara Zappa

Along with five nuns and Father Giovanni Scalese, the head of the missio sui iuris in Afghanistan, the kids landed yesterday in Rome. Italy’s airlift also brought out 15 associates of the Pro Bambini di Kabul charity and their families, whose lives were at risk. As for the others left behind, “we do not know how to help” them, said the association’s president Father Matteo Sanavio.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Fourteen severely disabled children, abandoned by their families, are now safe. In Kabul, they were in the care of the Sisters of Mother Teresa who had been operating in the Afghan capital for several years.

Yesterday afternoon they landed at Rome’s Fiumicino airport together with the four nuns who have "adopted" them, plus Barnabite Father Giovanni Scalese, in charge of the missio sui iuris in Afghanistan, and Pakistani Sister Shahnaz Bhatti, of the congregation of Saint Jeanne-Antide Thouret, who ran a facility for 50 children with mild disabilities in Kabul established by the inter-congregational association Pro Bambini of Kabul (PBK).

Days of anxiety followed the Taliban takeover the city, with the few members of the Catholic Church waiting for the right time to get to the airport of the Afghan capital. In a country in the throes of chaos, they managed to board a plane, part of the Aquila 1 airlift operation organised by the Italian Air Force, which will end tomorrow.

"For us it is a great relief,” said PBK president Father Matteo Sanavio. “The kids have arrived, all orphans aged 6 to 20 years,” he told AsiaNews. For the rogationist clergyman, the latter “are really the most vulnerable among the vulnerable, in wheelchairs, none of them are autonomous and alone they could not have survived",

Indian Sister Teresia Crasta, of the Congregation of the Child Mary, also worked with PBK; AsiaNews featured her story a few days ago.

“The sudden arrival of the Taliban in Kabul turned all our projects upside down,” said Fr Sanavio. “Of course, given the climate that reigned in the country in recent months, we had already begun to organise the possible withdrawal of our religious and the handover of the school to a local group, pending a possible return in case there was a peaceful political transition. But the rapid advance of the fundamentalist group undermined out plans.”

In recent days, the prospect of leaving Kabul has been filled with dread and uncertainty. “Italy moved quickly to organise the evacuation, but the presence of disabled children, who needed special care to reach the airport, complicated things, while security in the streets of the city was getting worse.”

If Sister Teresia, along with two Indian Jesuits who worked with refugees, managed to leave thanks to India’s airlift, Sister Shahnaz and the Missionaries of Mother Teresa went through more dreadful hours as the Taliban visited neighbourhoods, going house to house, looking for people who had cooperated with the West, including Afghans who worked at the PBK school in Kabul, about 15 people plus their families.

“While we kept in constant touch with Italian authorities, we worked with the Community of Sant'Egidio to include the names of these people in the list of those who could use humanitarian corridors. Today I can say that almost all of them have managed to reach Italy; now we are waiting for the last ones.”

What will happen to them? Father Sanavio explained that “The various congregations that make up our association have already offered to welcome these families and support them in order to integrate them in their new environment.”

“Of course, our thoughts today go to the many others who are asking for our support to flee Afghanistan and whom we do not know how to help. It is really painful to have to say ‘no’. How can one choose between who to save and who to abandon to one's destiny? But resources are limited and time is running out.”

In such a tragic situation, the priest is keen to "thank Italy, from the Defence and Foreign ministries to the diplomats and the military, who are doing the impossible to evacuate those at risk. The sight of Consul Tommaso Claudi among the children at the Kabul airport is only the tip of the iceberg.”

What will happen to the Church in Afghanistan now? “It was always hidden, almost symbolic, yet it has done so much for the neediest. I still hope that we can return in the future. At present, we’ll follow the developing situation and won’t stop praying.”

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