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ROME – On Wednesday the Diocese of Rome is holding a day of prayer and fasting for Afghanistan in response to an appeal made by Pope Francis last month asking the world to overcome indifference and support refugees from the troubled nation.
In a Sept. 3 letter circulated throughout the diocese, Archbishop Gianpiero Palmieri, Vicegerent of the Diocese of Rome, noted that “the tragedy of the Afghan people is before the eyes of all of us.”
“Their troubled history, the abandonment to themselves, and the lack of future prospects makes us fear for these brothers and sisters. As you have seen from the mass media, many families have arrived who need everything and ask for hospitality,” he said.
Palmieri then recalled an appeal made by Pope Francis during his Aug. 29 Angelus address, in which the pope voiced concern for recent developments in Afghanistan and insisted that “In historic moments such as this we cannot remain indifferent.”
To this end, Francis made a special appeal to Christians “to intensify prayer and the practice of fasting,” and to ask God “for mercy and forgiveness.”
In response to this appeal, Palmieri announced that Sept. 15, which marks the Catholic feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, will be observed throughout the diocese as a day of prayer, fasting, and solidarity for Afghanistan.
“I invite all of you to unite as the People of God,” Palmieri said, adding, “We will do it praying above all for our brother and sister Afghans, asking the intercession of Mary, in particular for the women, and transforming fasting into a contribution of charity for the welcome of the families of refugees.”
Last month chaos erupted in Afghanistan when members of the Taliban took control of the capital city of Kabul, sparking widespread fear and a massive evacuation effort.
Thousands of Afghans and foreigners were airlifted out of the country in the weeks that followed in an emergency effort to evacuate as many people as possible before the withdrawal of western troops, with the United States formally pulling out Aug. 31.
Italy itself has welcomed nearly 5,000 Afghan refugees, more than any other European nation.
Amid the chaos, some 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops were killed, and at least 140 more Afghans were wounded in a double suicide attack Aug. 26, which targeted an airport gate and a wastewater canal where people had been waiting for hours in hopes of boarding a plane.
While leaders of the Taliban have pledged to be more tolerant, inclusive, and open, serious doubts have arisen over these claims after videos emerged recently showing two journalists who had been beaten by Taliban members after covering a women’s protest in Kabul.
Despite assurances from the Taliban that women would still enjoy their rights while under their rule, they have been discouraged from working, and to stay home instead, and the new government recently formed by the Taliban is composed of all men.
At a high-level ministers meeting on the crisis in Geneva, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned that the people of Afghanistan are facing “their most perilous hour,” and are in desperate need of “a lifeline.”
Guterres made an emergency appeal for $606 million to help meet the country’s most basic needs as poverty rates are surging and the economy, already damaged by decades of conflict and the coronavirus, continues to deteriorate.
According to the World Food Program, which brought aid workers back to Kabul Sunday for the first time since the Taliban’s takeover, some 14 million people in Afghanistan are on the “brink of starvation,” and the situation is only getting worse.
As part of Rome’s day of prayer for Afghanistan, Palmieri will preside over a 9p.m. prayer service at the church of Saints Fabian and Venantius in the southeastern neighborhood of Tuscolano.
“I invite all of you to unite yourselves spiritually at the same time, or at different hours, each one in their own community,” Palmieri said, saying he would send out a prayer for parishes to use during their own services.
He asked that all parish communities and ecclesial entities participate “to the greatest extent possible,” and said the diocese is in contact with various institutions, including local Caritas offices, to assist in the welcome of Afghan refugees.
“I suggest that you devote the fruit of your fasting or of the offerings that you can gather to this,” he said, voicing hope that parishes, religious institutions, and even families would make themselves available to host a person or family from Afghanistan.
“Their hope is sustained if they experience our solidarity,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen