An Afghan appeals to Pope Francis: Save a Catholic family stuck in Kabul

Ali Ehsani Ali Ehsani./ null

An Afghan Christian refugee whose parents were killed by the Taliban in the 1990s is appealing to Pope Francis to help a Catholic family currently at the Kabul airport.

“I ask please, please of both the Holy See and the Italian authority to immediately save this Christian family which is still in the airport,” Ali Ehsani told CNA Aug. 19.

“As a Christian, I suffered in Afghanistan. I know how difficult is the suffering,” he said.

Ehsani, who has lived in Rome since 2003, hopes to make his appeal to the pope in person.

“I would very much like to meet the pope,” said Ehsani.

His message for the potential papal meeting? “Save this Christian Afghan family who are stuck there at the airport,” he said.

The Catholic family is made up of five children and their mother. 

The father went missing last week. The family fears that his disappearance is linked to their Christian identity amid reports that the Taliban has been going door-to-door to find targets.

Ehsani has a letter from the family, who are hoping to find refuge in Italy. He has also been in touch with the Italian authorities, who advised him to keep the family’s identity anonymous in the media for their own safety.

He worries that “the risk facing Christians in Afghanistan is like what my parents risked.”

“My parents were killed by the Taliban,” he said.

Ehsani left Afghanistan with his brother in 1997 after his parents were killed. He was eight years old.

Living in Christian community has been particularly difficult in Afghanistan because most families are forced to keep their identity as Christians a secret out of fear for their lives.

“No one said who was Christian. They were afraid of being caught,” Ehsani explained.

In Ehsani’s case, his parents decided to keep their faith a secret from their very young son for fear that he would accidentally mention it to one of his classmates.

He found out that his parents were Christians only after being questioned by one of his elementary school classmates.

“I was going to school and boys were asking me, ‘Why doesn't your father come to the mosque?’ I went home. I asked my father why he did not go to the mosque,” he said.

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“My father asked me, ‘Who told you this?’ I said my classmates told me.”

“Then, my father told me that I should never tell anyone that we are Christians,” he said. “We do not go to the mosque. We need to go to church.”

Ehsani said that he had many questions for his father: “What are Christians like? Where are Christians?” But his father urged him that he must keep everything a secret. 

Despite his father’s precautions, the Taliban discovered the family’s identity.

“When they found out that we were Christians, unfortunately my parents were killed,” he said.

Since coming to Italy, Ehsani, 32, has earned a law degree. He hopes that he can help to rescue other Christian families from the same tragedy he faced as a child.

He has been in touch with the Christian family currently stranded in Kabul via WhatsApp for the past six months. He told CNA that it took four months for the family to open up to him enough to share that they too were Catholic.

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Afghanistan is over 99% Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. There are small groups of Christians, including about 200 Catholics, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and Baháʼís. 

Afghanistan’s Christian community is comprised mostly of converts from Islam and is the country’s largest religious minority group. Due to persecution, the Christian community remains largely closeted and hidden from the public eye.

As of Aug. 20, the Catholic family he has been in touch with is still waiting in Kabul airport, according to Ehsani. 

Tens of thousands of people remain to be evacuated, according to the Associated Press. About 5,700 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the U.S. military.

Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban Aug. 15. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country the same day.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, Open Doors ranked Afghanistan second on its World Watch List on persecution, “only very slightly less oppressive than in North Korea.”

Under sharia, including in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover, apostasy from Islam is punishable by death. Converts to Christianity are the frequent target of Islamic extremist groups.

The Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. During that time, a strict interpretation of sharia was imposed. The playing of musical instruments, among other things, was banned, and girls were not permitted to go to school.

With the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and changing the name to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” sharia will likely be imposed stringently.

“The world must not recognize this dictatorial regime of the Taliban,” Ehsani said.

Ehsani has written two books in Italian about his life under the Taliban and experience as an Afghan refugee: “Tonight We Watch the Stars” and “The Kids Have Big Dreams.”

He said that his message for the international community today is: “Do not abandon Afghanistan.”

“Do not abandon Afghanistan. Do not leave it alone. We must not leave these people. You must not throw away that 20 years of sacrifice in Afghanistan that you have made.”

“I hope that one day even those Christians who suffer in silence in Afghanistan can get a place where they can be safe in Europe and where … they can freely go and pray,” he said.