Vatican City, Sep 22, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).
Pope Francis met Wednesday with three Afghan refugee families at the Vatican, including a Catholic family of four children and a man whose parents were killed by the Taliban.
In the joyful encounter, seven refugee children presented the pope with some of their drawings and Pope Francis prayed with the Afghan families.
“It was beautiful,” Ali Ehsani told CNA after the meeting on Sept. 22.
Ehsani, an Afghan Christian who escaped the Taliban after the murder of his parents in 1997, had appealed to the pope to help a Catholic family that was stranded at the Kabul airport in August.
At the time, thousands of Afghans had crowded the airport seeking asylum after the capital of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban Aug. 15.
The father of the Catholic family of four children had gone missing and the family feared that his disappearance was linked to their Christian identity amid reports that the Taliban was going door-to-door to find targets.
“We remained closed in the cellar for four days and four nights for fear of everyone being arrested, probably someone denounced us as Christians,” Pary Gul Hasan Zada, the mother of the family, told L’Osservatore Romano.
Italy offered asylum to this mother, her three daughters and one son, and the family arrived in Rome on Aug. 21.
The mother said that she has had no news of the status of her husband since his arrest last month.
The pope met with this Catholic family and two other families that had children between the ages of one years old and 14 before his general audience.
Upon their arrival in Italy, the Hasan Zada family who had lived their faith in secret for so long, were finally able to attend Mass.
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.
Living in Christian community has been particularly difficult in Afghanistan because most families are forced to conceal their identity as Christians out of fear for their lives.
“The first time they were able to attend Mass, they were so overcome that they could only cry,” Ehsani told Aid to the Church in Need.
“It was deeply moving to have the freedom to openly acknowledge their faith. And they said, ‘After having lived in the dark for so many years as secret Christians, it is like being reborn.’”