Father Giovanni Scalese was responsible for the only Catholic Church in Afghanistan, the Chapel of Our Lady of Divine Providence, located inside the Italian embassy. However, after the Taliban takeover, he had to leave the country.
Fr. Scalese is a priest of the Order of Clerks Regular of Saint Paul (the Barnabites) and the Superior of the Church’s mission in Afghanistan. In a recent interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he spoke about his evacuation from the country and his repatriation to Europe.
“Our exit from Afghanistan was a veritable miracle. The day after we left was the day (August 26) of the terrorist explosion at the airport. If we hadn’t left on that day, we might quite possibly not have been able to get away,” he said.
It was August 15 when the Taliban forces captured Kabul, the Afghan capital. Former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and in the days and weeks that followed a great number of citizens, activists and embassy staff attempted to leave or be evacuated. On August 26, a suicide attack outside Kabul airport killed 183 people—including 13 US military personnel—and left more than 200 people injured.
The Catholic community in Afghanistan had been organized under a sui iuris mission (a small independent mission under the direct jurisdiction of the Vatican). The procurator general of the Barnabites, Father José Carbajal, had explained that “ever since the beginning of the Barnabite presence in Afghanistan, our mission has been exercised within the Italian Embassy in Kabul. It was here that Father Scalese offered the religious services, celebrating Mass and the other Sacraments for internal embassy staff and for others from outside, including from the other diplomatic representations. The other religious congregations within the country looked to our mission as a point of support and a place where everybody could meet.”
According to Father Carbajal, until shortly before the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, the situation had been “very normal, very peaceful.” Despite the limitations, “there was a relatively normal community life, Church life. We were always able to offer a service to this small Catholic population, temporarily in residence there. There were moments of crisis, but it was always possible to maintain our missionary activity,” he explained.
With the seizure of power by the Taliban and the declaration of an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan, the situation has changed radically. “Almost everybody left Afghanistan before we did. The few people who have stayed on are not in any danger,” said Father Scalese.
“At the present moment the only help we can give them is our prayers. I myself was able to personally experience the great efficacy of the unanimous prayer of the Church,” he added, recalling that Afghanistan was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on October 13, 2017, at the conclusion of the 100th anniversary of the Fátima apparitions.
Father Scalese concluded by recalling how on the day of his evacuation they had felt “the protection of Our Lady” and expressed his wish that “Our Blessed Lady protect all the people of Afghanistan.”