12/16/2021, 20.08
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Sister Shanhaz receives desperate messages from ‘those left in Kabul' (VIDEO)

The Pakistani nun worked in Afghanistan with the Pro Bambini di Kabul association. Yesterday evening, in Milan, she spoke about the suffering of those left in the Taliban-ruled country, stricken by a major humanitarian crisis. “Can you at least take us to Pakistan?” ask some of them. People need wood for heating, medicines. “Prices have risen by perhaps 200 per cent.” in Lesbos too, many Afghans are stranded at the gates of Europe.

Milan (AsiaNews) – “I'm sorry to be here today and not in Kabul because my heart is still there. Every day I receive many messages and I cry, because I can’t do anything,” said Sister Shanhaz Bhatti.

For many years, the Pakistani-born nun of the Sisters of Saint Joan Antida worked with marginalised people in Afghanistan through the Pro Bambini di Kabul association, an Italy-based charity.

She arrived in Italy last August with the Sisters of Mother Teresa and a group of disabled children during the tragic days of the fall of Kabul into the hands of the Taliban.

Last night she spoke about it in Milan at an evening promoted by the Centro PIME, under the patronage of the Archdiocese of Milan and AsiaNews.

The aim of the event is to ensure that the tragedy of the Afghan people is not forgotten, while a serious humanitarian crisis rages on despite the end of the war.

The meeting was held in Milan’s Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, the basilica of the martyrs, with readings about the sufferings of this country through the eyes of faith.

Sister Shanhaz described her low-key place working with the country’s downtrodden. “We could not wear religious symbols,” she explained. “We could not even pronounce the name of Jesus for that could be construed as proselytizing.” Only with “our smile could we pass on the Gospel.”

During the tragic days of August, the members of Afghanistan’s small Church (a handful of foreign religious, in a strictly Islamic country) decided to leave with the disabled orphans left in their care.

The nun, who still wears the same clothes she wore in Afghanistan, described the fateful three hours by bus to the airport. “Even today I wake up at night” and “what we saw in that terrible night still upsets me.”

Now in Italy Sister Shahnaz works as cultural mediator for the families of Afghans who worked with foreign agencies whom the Pro Bambini di Kabul association managed to get out and are now hosted by religious organisations.

“I try to accompany people for the suffering they have experienced. It's not easy for them,” she explained. Still, her thoughts are with those left in Kabul.

"I keep the Afghan card in my mobile phone to communicate even though this can be a bit dangerous. But I have seen their suffering and I cannot abandon them,” she noted.

“They send me videos, voice messages: ‘Sister, can you do something for us? Can you at least take us to Pakistan?’ I pray. We try to get them at least some money, at least to heat their homes, buy some wood, candles. And the medicines because so many are sick. The air is very polluted in Kabul and you feel out of breath.”

The Afghan mission of the Pro Bambini di Kabul association has not been shut down, only put on hold.

“I would be the first to go back if a way were to open up,” Sister Shanhaz said. “If it were safe, not only for me, but also for other people to help children who have nothing. We took care of everything for them, now who can do it in Kabul?”

During the evening, Mirwais Azimi, an Afghan from Herat, talked about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. Until he fled, he taught international relations at a university.

“Every evening we think about Afghanistan. We might be safe [here in Italy], but mentally we are restless. We suffer as much as they [those left in Afghanistan] suffer for all the poverty.

“The dollar has doubled. One dollar was worth 75 Afghanis, but a few days ago it hit 120. Prices have risen by perhaps 200 per cent. Poverty is destroying our people. I always think about when I will be able to return.”

Suffering is not only inside the borders of Afghanistan, noted Najma Yawari, 23, who fled from Kabul three years ago but was held for two years in a refugee camp in Lesbos (Lesvos), in Greece, which Pope Francis visited recently.

She arrived in Italy thanks to the humanitarian corridors sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio.

Last evening in Milan, she said: “There are still many Afghans in Lesbos; they cannot go out, cannot study, cannot work. This is not life. I hope that the day will come when there is no more war and everyone can live without concerns about their future.”

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