Afghanistan May Now Be a Priestless Nation

Italian Says Taliban Have Trampled Cultural Heritage of a People

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ROME, NOV. 8, 2001 ( Father Giuseppe Moretti, believed to have been the last priest working in Afghanistan, has left the beleaguered nation.

Until a few years ago, he worked as a chaplain to the international community. The ongoing war is not the first time Father Moretti has been exposed to death and destruction.

«I cannot get used to the abyss of suffering that the people have endured for over 20 years,» the priest explained in an interview with the monthly review Mondo e Missione. «However, one learns to live with the fear of bombs.»

In 1994 the Barnabite missionary was wounded by shrapnel and had to return to Italy. Since then, he has gathered voluminous documentation on the situation in Afghanistan, where he returned after his treatment.

«Today everyone talks about the Taliban and Osama bin Laden,» the priest observed. «But up until yesterday, who moved a finger to help the Afghan women and children? One thing is certain: The people have been forgotten and condemned to death. The cities are already reduced to a heap of ruins.»

He added: «The Taliban are the worst enemies of the Afghan people.»

When referring to Muslim fundamentalism, the Barnabite missionary became noticeably agitated.

«The Afghan people have always been tolerant, even when the law against proselytism was being enforced,» he said. «The Taliban are a cancer in the heart of the country. Afghan culture has a very ancient history.

«The roots of Zoroastrianism are in Afghanistan. For centuries Buddhism also played a very important role. Nestorian Christianity was present, [as were] Jewish communities. I believe this multiple religious presence left a profound respect for others in the Afghan spirit.»

He continued: «The Taliban presence is imposed from outside and tolerated, perhaps, by the weakness caused by decades of war. While I was in the country, I always noted a profound sense of respect and gratitude for the efforts of the small Christian presence, what I call the ´little flock,´ spent in favor of the people.»

«In this connection, I always thought that our presence was, and continues to be, a proclamation, a prophecy of peace,» the priest said.

In the interview, Father Moretti described the sufferings of the 17 million Afghans. Young people have known nothing but war. There are 10 million antipersonnel mines in the country; one citizen out of three is mutilated. In addition to destroyed cities, there is famine, and two years ago there was an earthquake. Today there are 6 million refugees, both official and clandestine.

The priest is worried about the future, when the Taliban are expelled from power.

«We must keep in mind Pakistan´s hegemonist designs on the region, and the project of the great oil pipeline, which should transport crude [oil] from central Asia to the ocean,» Father Moretti said.

«These are elements that cannot be overlooked by those who in the future will have the task to lead the country toward democracy,» he added.

Father Moretti highlighted the importance of Afghans living abroad, trained people who could «make a great contribution to bring the country closer to the West without imposing a harmful and negative Westernization.»

The priest related how an official was all set to build a church for the Christians, but the war has halted everything.

Another work Father Moretti longs to do is to establish a school to promote peace.

«I was preparing a project for a school for boys and girls in which, in addition to the subjects of the school curriculum, they would be taught the values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence,» he said.

«I have already collected quite a large amount for this purpose,» he added. «If the Holy See continues to entrust me with the mission, once peace returns, I am ready to begin this project.»

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