A Country with Only One Catholic Chapel

And That´s at a Closed Embassy

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ROME, NOV. 8, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The only Catholic church in Afghanistan is in the Italian Embassy in Kabul, which, like all diplomatic headquarters, has been closed since the time of the civil war.

The history of this chapel, as well as the presence of the Clerics Regular of St. Paul, or Barnabites, goes back to the time when Mussolini´s Italy had diplomatic relations with Afghanistan´s monarchy, following independence in

Italy was the first Western country to recognize nascent Afghanistan, the Italian newspaper Avvenire noted.

Following the treaty that sanctioned diplomatic relations between the two countries, Italy in 1933 was given the privilege of having a chapel in the embassy, and a Catholic priest in residence as chaplain for the international community.

Since then, five Barnabite missionaries have held this post. A few years later, the Italian Embassy had a second priest stay incognito at the embassy, accredited as a diplomat. The opening of the small chapel marked the return of Christianity to Afghanistan after two centuries.

Islam is the state religion; 99% of the population is Muslim. In the 20th century, missionary efforts by other religions were prohibited. Yet, in a silent way, Christians carried out a valuable form of «proclamation with their lives.»

Only four Little Sisters of Jesus — a congregation founded in Algeria, inspired by Charles de Foucauld´s spirituality — remain in Afghanistan, as the chaplain was forced to leave.

The Christus Traeger (Bearers of Christ) Lutherans are also in Afghanistan. They have built the only leprosarium in the country, near Kabul.

The International Assistant Mission, a Protestant ecumenical association, is in Herat as well as Kabul. The mission runs an ophthalmic clinic and a maternity clinic, two vital centers in a country where a simple infection can cause death.

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