Pope's appeal for Afghanistan helps a 'forgotten' people

In an interview with Vatican News, the former Superior of the Mission ‘sui iuris’ in Afghanistan, the last priest to have been in the country, Fr. Giovanni Scalese, discusses Pope Francis' appeal for those suffering from massive floods, and suggests it helps break down a 'wall of silence' that has thus far left the country 'abandoned' and 'forgotten.'

May 16, 2024

At least 300 people died in flooding in Baghlan, Afghanistan (ANSA)


By Deborah Castellano Lubov.
Pope Francis on Wednesday made an appeal for the international community to provide necessary aid and support to the most vulnerable in Afghanistan where at least 300 people have been killed in flooding in 18 districts across at least three of the country's northern provinces in the past few days.

Following the Pope's words, Fr. Giovanni Scalese, the last superior of the Mission sui iuris in Afghanistan, who was the only Catholic priest present in the country, granted an interview to Vatican News, about the Pope's appeal, and discussing the consequences that the recent floods will have on a people who face a daily scarcity of essential goods for survival.

After spending nearly seven years in Afghanistan as the only active Catholic priest in Kabul, the Barnabite recalls the difficult conditions under which he operated as a missionary. Today Father Scalese is in Italy, repatriated like thousands of other foreigners forced to flee in haste after the Taliban came to power.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, hundreds more have been injured in the recent floods, and it is believed that many people remain buried in the mud. Most of the casualties were reported in Baghlan province, where heavy rains destroyed an estimated 3,000 houses, flooded farmland, washed away livestock, closed schools and damaged health centres.

Father Scalese, at his General Audience, Pope Francis made an important appeal for Afghanistan which has been struck by devastating floods. What news do you have regarding this disaster? How do you receive this appeal from the Pope?

Unfortunately, I have very little news. I learned of this tragedy in recent days from a confrere of mine, Father Moretti, who was my predecessor in Kabul, because otherwise no one in the media is talking about it. Instead, other less important events dominate the media, and they are talked about every day for weeks. When it comes to Afghanistan, no one talks about it. So, I think it is certainly important that the Holy Father made this appeal yesterday morning. Indeed, we are really very grateful to him for breaking down this wall of silence. We hope that at least now, having spoken about it, some media outlet will report the news because otherwise, no one will know anything.

Afghanistan is already a very poor country. What effect could these floods have on the daily lives of the people?

Yes, exactly, Afghanistan is a very poor country, and Afghans have very little to lose, so unfortunately, they are used to these disastrous events and are used to facing them as best they can. Clearly, the victims, those who lose their lives, can do nothing. The others will try to move forward as best they can, as they have always done throughout Afghanistan's history, gritting their teeth and starting over each time. Certainly, there is still hope for intervention by those who could intervene. The Pope himself yesterday morning appealed to the international community, to non-governmental organizations, to international bodies. So, we hope there will be interventions to help these populations.

As you mentioned, the Pope specifically called for help from the international community, and you also highlighted that there is a kind of wall of silence, that after the Taliban took power in Kabul, hardly anyone speaks about this country anymore. But what can be done to give Afghanistan a voice in the midst of this silence?

I don't know. I don't know because this is unfortunately exactly what happened after August 15, 2021. No one talks about Afghanistan anymore. Because it's not interesting! It's not interesting, unfortunately! The world of information is not objective, it does not report all the news, it is very selective. It only chooses certain news, those that may interest the general public or news that may be important for some ideological or political reason. And so, in this case, Afghanistan has been completely forgotten. I hope, however, that little by little people will realize that, regardless of who is in government, in power in a country, especially international organizations and non-governmental organizations should make an effort so that populations in need can receive help, regardless of the political regime in power in a particular country.

And from the years you served there as a missionary, what remain your most vivid memories? You were the only priest present there and so you are the only person who could tell such an experience...

But unfortunately, I don't have good memories of Afghanistan. I was there for seven years from 2015 to 2021. They were very difficult years. I did not have the opportunity to visit the country; it was too risky, even just being in Kabul, inside the Italian embassy, where the Catholic mission was based, one could not even move around the city because it was dangerous. Every day, I would say, there were attacks. So, it was a country in a state of war, so I don't have any good experiences to tell. If there is one good memory, let's say, it is that of October 13, 2017, when at the end of the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima, we consecrated Afghanistan to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and this gives me so much hope. Because Afghanistan, even if it is ignored, forgotten, abandoned by everyone, certainly cannot be abandoned by God and by Mary. And Afghanistan is also in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who will certainly protect this country and protect its people and will not allow this people to perish, despite all the trials it is subjected to. Thanks to the Holy Father who remembered Afghanistan, hoping that these interventions can have some effect in favor of the Afghan people.--Vatican News

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