ROME – It’s become customary for Pope Francis to use the final minutes of his Sunday Angelus prayer to let the world know what global conflict has caught his attention. Hence, his silence over the crisis in Afghanistan this week was deafening.
However, an Italian newspaper is claiming the Argentine pontiff negotiating with the Taliban through Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to open humanitarian corridors that would allow the thousands of refugees in Afghanistan to flee safely.
According to Il Tempo, “a reserved channel has unexpectedly been opened between the Holy See and the Taliban to create a humanitarian corridor” in a three-way negotiation between [Pope Francis], the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Erdogan and the Taliban regime. Is it possible? For the moment, there is no official confirmation or denial from the Holy See.”
It’s worth noting that though Pope Francis has good ties with most of the Muslim world, the Holy See has no diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, which has a Muslim population of 99 percent. This Central Asian country, though absent during the pope’s latest public appearance, did get a mention the previous Sunday, as the United States was beginning the withdrawal of troops after a 20-year war.
The assertion was made by the behind-the-scenes journalist Luigi Bisignani in a letter addressed to the editor, quoting government and parliamentary sources to illustrate what is happening in the diplomatic back channels of the Italy-Holy See-Afghanistan axis.
According to the long-time journalist, the Vatican is better than the European Union and NATO to negotiate possible humanitarian corridors with the Taliban, and reportedly the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches have been able to open a dialogue, with Erdogan as an intermediary.
Earlier last week, the Community of Sant’Egidio, together with a group of Italian Protestant churches, had called for humanitarian corridors to be opened to help those in dire need to leave Afghanistan.
“Europe must act to ensure the protection of those fleeing from Afghanistan that has been recaptured by the Taliban,” said a joint statement signed by Marco Impagliazzo, President of the Community of Sant’Egidio; Luca M. Negro, President of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy; and Alessandra Trotta, Moderator of the Waldensian Table.
“Thousands of men, women and children risk their lives simply for having believed in the values of democracy, freedom of expression and study,” the statement said. “We also ask for a commitment from Italy, which was the first country to successfully experiment with ‘humanitarian corridors’, to adopt this instrument to facilitate the evacuation of Afghan refugees.”
For over six years, Catholics and Protestants have worked together to build humanitarian corridors from Lebanon and, thanks to a protocol with the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, they’re getting ready to launch the first humanitarian corridor for 200 refugees from detention centers in Libya.
On the basis of this experience, Sant’Egidio and the Protestant churches made themselves available “to carry out a similar project in favor of Afghan refugees, ready to collaborate with institutions, local administrations and other expressions of civil society that want to share this urgent humanitarian project.”
The Catholic community founded by layman Andrea Riccardi played a key role in helping a group of Syrian refugees stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos enter Italy as refugees on the flight that took Pope Francis back to Rome after a short visit to the island, which is near the coast of Turkey and a temporary home to thousands of refugees.