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ROME – Pope Francis has called on whatever government will emerge in Afghanistan following the American withdrawal to allow children to receive an education, despite the Taliban policy of not allowing women to attend school after the age of 12.
“In these troubled times that see Afghans seeking refuge, I pray for the most vulnerable among them,” Francis said Sunday. “I pray that many countries will welcome and protect those seeking a new life. I pray also for the internally displaced persons and that they may receive assistance and the necessary protection.”
The pontiff’s remarks came at the end of his traditional Sunday Angelus address.
The Catholic Church, through different NGOs, such as the Community of Sant’Egidio in Italy, has been helping Afghan refugees resettle, while urging the creation of “humanitarian corridors” for the safe passage of those still trying to flee.
Many of those who’ve asked for asylum, and who are currently waiting in so-called transit hubs in countries such as Qatar, Germany and Italy, worked closely with Western troops and now fear for their lives, with the Taliban having already killed many of these people, including the family members of a local who worked as a journalist for a German newspaper.
“May all Afghans, whether at home, in transit, or in host countries, live with dignity, in peace and fraternity with their neighbors,” Francis said on Sunday.
This was the third time the pope referred to the crisis in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from this Central Asian country after a 20-year war. Tens of thousands have tried to flee the country after the Taliban reclaimed power in mid-August, with chaos being a daily occurrence in Kabul’s airport.
Last Sunday, Francis had made reference to the terrorist attack in the airport that had left at least 130 people dead. This time, his message was about Afghanis trying to leave the country and the dignity of those who will remain.
“May young Afghans receive education, an essential good for human development,” the pope said, knowing that according to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women older than 12 are not allowed to receive an education.
On Friday, a small group of Afghan women protested near the presidential palace in Kabul, a day after women in the western Afghan city of Herat took to the streets against Taliban restrictions on their right to work and seek education.
According to The Associated Press, around 20 women with microphones gathered in the heart of Kabul under the watchful eyes of Taliban gunmen, who allowed the demonstration to proceed. The protest in the Afghan capital was the second women’s protest in as many days, with the other held in Afghanistan’s largest western city, Herat.
The women demanded access to education, the right to return to work and a role in governing the country. “Freedom is our motto. It makes us proud,” read one of their signs. Videos of the protests have been shared through social media by journalists working on the ground.
On Saturday, the women again tried to protest, but this time around Taliban special forces fired their weapons into the air, bringing the rally to an end.
The last time the Islamist militants were in power in Afghanistan, women were not allowed to work nor walk in the streets without being accompanied by a man.
On Wednesday, Spanish Radio COPE released a pre-taped interview with Pope Francis, during which the Argentine spoke at length about the crisis, arguing that “all the eventualities” were not “taken into account” when negotiating the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He also quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin- though he credited German Chancellor Angela Merkel- saying that “It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the traditions of the peoples.”
“I believe that as a pastor I must call Christians to a special prayer at this time,” he said. “It is true that we live in a world of wars, (think of Yemen, for example). But this is something very special, it has another meaning. And I am going to try to ask for what the Church always asks for in times of great difficulty and crisis: More prayer and fasting.”
At the end of Sunday’s Angelus, Francis also promised his prayer to those in the United States who’ve been affected by “a strong hurricane in recent days,” referring to Ida, that caused the death of at least 67 people.
He also extended his “heartfelt good wishes to all my brothers and sisters of the Jewish religion” who in coming days will be celebrating the New Year, Rosh Hashanah: “may the New Year be rich in fruits of peace and good for those who walk faithfully in the Lord’s Law.”
Lastly, he asked the thousands who’d gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray for his upcoming trip to Hungary- scheduled for Sunday, where he will close the International Eucharistic Congress, which opened this Sunday- and then to Slovakia.
“These will be days marked by adoration and prayer in the heart of Europe,” he said. “I entrust the visits I will undertake to the intercession of so many heroic confessors of the faith, who in those places bore witness to the Gospel amid hostility and persecution. May they help Europe to bear witness today also, not so much in words but above all in deeds, with works of mercy and hospitality, the good news of the Lord who loves us and saves us.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma