reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
Jesuits, Missionaries of Charity stranded in Afghanistan
Two Jesuits and four MC nuns are stranded in Afghanistan, as the country and its capital fell to the Taliban. Afghans as well as foreigners are trying to flee the country amid pandemonium and chaos at Kabul airport.
By Vatican News staff writer
Two Jesuits stranded in strife-torn Afghanistan have sought prayers as the Taliban militants took control of the troubled south-east Asian nation. “Thank you for your continuous prayers for our safety. The way the situation is changing in the country, it is anyone’s imagination … safety does not make sense here. It is a chaotic situation,” Indian priest Father Jerome Sequeira, the country head of the Jesuit mission in Afghanistan, wrote in a message to his friends and colleagues.
Afghanistan fell to the Taliban after the United States ended its 20 years of operations there. A relative calm reigned in the Afghan capital Kabul on August 16, a day after its president fled and the Taliban installed themselves in the presidential palace. However, Kabul airport was a scene of pandemonium and roads leading to it were clogged with traffic and people, as thousands scrambled to flee the country in panic.
Missionaries of Charity nuns
Four Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns are also stranded in Afghanistan and will probably be moved to their countries, UCA News reported. “Our two priests are stuck in Afghanistan and are waiting for their evacuation,” said a Jesuit priest based in the Indian capital New Delhi. “We have also suspended our mission in Afghanistan indefinitely as we are not sure when the situation will improve,” he said. A senior nun at the Missionaries of Charity headquarters in eastern India’s Kolkata city confirmed that four of their nuns are in Afghanistan, including an Indian. She gave no details of the other three, fearing for their safety. The Missionaries of Charity, which St. Teresa of Kolkata founded in 1950, arrived in Kabul in 2004 for humanitarian work.
The two Jesuit priests and the Missionary of Charity nun are among many Indians waiting for the Indian government's evacuation flights to get them out of the country.
Fr. Sequeira in Kabul
Father Sequeira, who works for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), had gone to Kabul airport to take the 10:45 flight to India. “It resembled a chaotic railway station,” he told Matters India August 16 evening, speaking from “a secure place” in the city. He said he came to the country in 2006 and never in the past 15 years has he seen such a breakdown of system.
He narrated how he had to drag his luggage as large crowds and vehicles jammed the roads. “Thousands of people are trying to flee. I managed to reach the second gate but then Taliban were shooting in the air and trying to control the crowd. Before, my reaching, thousands of people had managed to enter the airport building but the entire airport staff had abandoned the place. Without any security check and boarding passes people had gone into the flight,” Father Sequeira said.
He referred to images on social media showing people clinging on to a US military aircraft on the tarmac as it tried to take off. “In this chaotic situation no flight will land at the moment. Seeing this senseless situation, no country will dare to fly to Kabul at the moment. It was a terrifying experience,” said the Jesuit priest who works for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
Fr. Rodrigues in Bamiyan
The other Jesuit Father Robert Rodrigues from southern India’s Karnataka state is stuck in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan. He managed to get inside Bamiyan airport in the evening on August 15, checked in and was awaiting a United Nations flight to land, which would fly him to Kabul some 25 minutes away. Meanwhile, the situation changed dramatically and the entire airport security personnel just abandoned the airport. Father Sequeira said Father Rodrigues is safe and was “much better and relaxed” on August 16. “We are seeking possible ways to evacuate him from Bamiyan to Kabul through the help of UN agencies,” Father Sequeira said.
Taliban taking over system
According to him, the Taliban is busy in occupying government systems and putting their own persons. “They are not harming the civilians at the moment but it will come once they have fully captured all the systems of the country. They have the list of all organizations and profile too. In some places they have started door-to-door enquiries about the personnel of the organization,” Father Sequeira’s message explained.
He said the Jesuit Refugee Service has indefinitely suspended its activities in Afghanistan “and all are hibernating in their homes or communities.” “All flights are cancelled and it all depends on the agreement between UN bodies and the Taliban.” He said the entire JRS body is putting all efforts to evacuate him and Father Rodrigues. “At the moment, I am safe,” Father Sequeira wrote.
The JRS country head lamented how the international community could have given up the country to the Taliban after investing and establishing so much in 20 years. “With the way the Taliban took over provinces, all thought it would take some 90 days for them to reach Kabul. But they swept over the capital in ten days,” he added. According to him, the Taliban militants have taken control of 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Meanwhile, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed worries that the upheaval caused by the Taliban takeover is compromising the country’s other battle against the coronavirus. It said the chaos has slowed the vaccination programme. It is concerned over the unfolding safety and humanitarian needs in the country, including risk of disease outbreaks and rise in Covid-19 transmission.
14 years of Jesuit mission in Afghanistan
Father Stany D’Souza, president of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia, said both the Jesuits are safe, adding they are in touch with them. Until last month, the Jesuits had planned to continue their mission in Afghanistan.
Saint Pope John Paul II established a mission sui juris for Afghanistan on May 16, 2002, and entrusted it to the Barnabite fathers. Two years later the Jesuits ventured into the country to help the Afghan people rebuild their war-ravaged nation through education.
The JRS launched programmes to educate the youth, especially the internally displaced persons, returnees from neighboring countries and other vulnerable sections. The Jesuits have trained more than 300 young teachers and through them were educating more than 25,000 children in four provinces. Young girls were major beneficiaries of the Jesuit mission in a country still haunted by memories of the Taliban’s anti-female attitude before it was toppled in 2001. The Indian Jesuits were also involved in livelihood interventions.
They too had their troubles with the Taliban. On June 2, 2014, suspected Taliban fighters abducted JRS director Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who was accompanying teachers on a visit to a school for refugees in the village of Sohadat, some 500 miles west of Kabul. The priest from southern India’s Tamil Nadu state was held handcuffed during most of his 8-month captivity. His release on February 22, 2015 was secured with the help of the Indian government.
However, the Jesuits’ links with Afghanistan go back more than 400 years. In 1581, Mughal Emperor Akbar took along a Jesuit priest from Agra in northern India to Kabul. A year later, in 1582, Jesuit Brother Bento de Goes stopped at Kabul on his way to China. But there was no lasting Jesuit presence in the country. (Source: Matters India, UCA News)