That morning, whoever opens the door of the immense palace housing the community of barnabite religious, in the center of Rome, donned an impeccable black costume, topped with a Roman collar. There is nothing to suggest that the man in front of you was for eighteen years the only Catholic priest in Afghanistan. And that in recent hours, the heart of Father Giuseppe Moretti, 82, has been shattered by the news arriving incessantly from Kabul, which fell into the hands of the Taliban in mid-August. He never stopped loving this city he left in 2014.
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“I am madly in love with Afghanistan”, he said that morning. ” Crazy in Love. When I set foot there for the first time, there were people greeting us on the tarmac, because the planes attracted the curious. I looked at this crowd and I said to myself: “Now, either you keep your presupposed Western superiority, and you will understand nothing about this country. Either you let go, and you try to understand. ” I chose the second solution. “
“There are undoubtedly Afghan Catholics. But they risk death ”
Originally from Marche in Italy, Father Moretti has known several Afghanistan. The country at peace, surveyed during its first year of presence, in 1977. Then the one that followed the coup a year later. Only diplomats, aid workers and technicians remain. The priest also left the country, without knowing that he would find him again in 1990, for four more years.
The one who had in the meantime become a professor of Latin and Italian literature in Florence, finds a country where the Soviet army is omnipresent, before plunging into civil war. As in the 1970s, he officiates in the only chapel in the city, only frequented by the international community. No Afghans. This is one of the two demands made by the Afghan authorities when Father Moretti’s distant predecessor was sent to Kabul at the very beginning of the 1930s. The second condition? “An absolute ban on proselytism”, states this priest, who was the fifth barnabite to exercise in Afghanistan. “There are undoubtedly Afghan Catholics. But they risk death. “
It is in the only Catholic building in the country, built within the walls of the Italian Embassy, that Father Moretti celebrated Mass daily until this day in 1994 when a missile landed on his house. Seriously injured, he was forced to return to Italy. He did not return there until eight years later, when Rome decided to reopen the embassy. We are in 2002, a few months after September 11th.
The slow reconstruction of the country
Oddly enough, for years, and despite the Taliban, the church has remained standing. The Islamists had, however, identified the chapel. And for good reason: the building of the religious police was exactly on the other side of the embassy wall. After this second return to Afghanistan, he witnessed the slow reconstruction of the country, followed then closely by John Paul II, who regularly speaks of Afghanistan in his speeches. The words of the Polish Pope go far. When he died, no less than seven Afghan ministers went to the tribute mass celebrated by Father Moretti.
Today, the priest, who continues to monitor the situation hour by hour, does not hide his nostalgia. “These were the best years of my priesthood”, he smiles. In his little church, they rubbed shoulders “The 5-star American general” and “The Filipino domestic staff”. “It was there, when we were on an island, cut off from everything, that I felt the catholicity. “ In these hours when Afghanistan has fallen like a house of cards, he also expresses his sorrow: “I am very sad. A deep disillusion. For years, I have hoped, seen a positive spiral of freedom and democracy. And there everything was swept away in a few days. “
Two years ago, in the summer of 2019, Father Moretti returned to Kabul. When his successor asked him to replace him for a month, it took him no more than a minute to give his answer. He left in his luggage with enough to buy 500 new benches for the school he had founded years earlier, which then welcomed 2,500 students, from kindergarten to elementary school. “My despair is that from Kabul, I couldn’t reach school. I was prevented from doing so for security reasons ”, he regrets. Then silence falls. “You know, it wasn’t a glowing presence but a silent presence. We were little stars. But even small stars can illuminate. “
The appeals of John Paul II
If there was a pope who was particularly attentive to Afghanistan, it is John Paul II. “At one point, every time he spoke to diplomats, he worried about the situation in the country”, emphasizes the Italian priest. He remembers in particular this Christmas 2001 message, in the form of a call to “Save the children” of the whole world, ” whatever the race, the nation “ to which they belong, and in particular “The child of Afghanistan. “ It is just after this call that the association “pro bambini” of Kabul will be born, whose last members – 3 nuns and 11 disabled children – were repatriated at the end of August in Italy, at the same time as the last priest of the country.