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Frontier women

Being Christians in Kabul

SS. Francesco - Auletta dell’Aula Paolo VI: Famiglie di profughi afghani  22-09-2021
04 December 2021

The new life in Italy of Pary Gul and her family    

Every now and then, the hint of a smile appears on Pary Gul's face. However, it's just for an instant. Like when she adjusts the pink veil covering her head. Then that indecipherable expression immediately returns. Like one who is at peace, but ready to defend herself. And she has had to defend herself since she was born. Fifty-seven years old, a mother of five children, all girls, two of whom are married.  She saw the Taliban take her husband away. She knows nothing more about it. Only when the conversation falls on him, that firmness, which emanates from her whole body, collapses, and she cries.

We met her in Rome, in a house that the Meet Human Foundation had found temporarily for her and her family (14 in all, including seven children) who had just arrived from Kabul. For security reasons, we cannot name her husband, daughters, grandchildren, nor show their faces. They are safe, but they remain on the black list of those who, in Kabul, want to kill them. They are still receiving threats. Even the place where they now live, near Bergamo, cannot be disclosed. The Meet Human Foundation has found them a permanent home and is helping them to start a new life. Pary Gul's daughters will begin hairdressing and cooking classes in the coming days, their husbands will be helped to find work as drivers and mechanics, which is what they did in Kabul. Children will go back to school, some to kindergarten, some to elementary or high school. For now, they have Italian lessons every day. Children and adults alike. All this with only the help of Providence.  Francesco Napoli, who is responsible for Institutional Relations of the Foundation explains, “We have decided not to use public funding and funds to deal with the economic aspects of their reception, but instead to solicit those who will freely give from their pocket, and contribute. We risk everything on charity for charity's sake, in order to responsibly affirm the only reason for our actions and that is that nothing can respond to the desire for happiness in the heart of man if not those who have done it”. Life, with difficulty, begins again. However, the wounds remain. Pary Gul has run away, her husband may be dead, her family members persecuted because they are Christians. A belonging that, for her and her daughters, added to the fact of being women, made them a target in Afghanistan of today. This is nothing new for her. She remembers when the Taliban were in power in the 1990s, before the Americans arrived. Even after that, for Christians, things did not change much: there were no churches, no opportunity to go to mass. Yet she and her family never stopped being Christians, she says. Her grandparents were Christians, even if they could not say so. How is it possible, we ask her, to live a faith that cannot be manifested and because of which you risk your life? Did it not make you want to abandon it? She looks at us, amazed. “I never thought about converting, no. My fear was just that they would know we were Christians and torture us. Sure, one could convert to live more peacefully. But I wanted to be true to my faith.” And you can, she says. Even if the context is hostile. “We prayed within ourselves. For me, being a Christian means being happy, at peace. Like when I met Pope Francis. It was like being born again.”  What saved them, bringing them to Italy, was their friendship with Alì Ehsani, a 32-year-old Afghan journalist and writer who escaped from Kabul when he was 13. “Six months ago,” Alì tells us, “I met one of Pary Gul’s daughters on the Internet. At first she thought I was a spy. Then slowly an atmosphere of trust was established. I told him that I was a Christian and she told me that she and her family were too. So I started to transmit mass to them, via WhatsApp”. On August 14, the doorman at their home heard liturgical chants coming from their phone. He asked if they were Christians. The next day the Taliban broke into the house and kidnapped Pary Gul's husband. They realized that, for them, their days were numbered. They fled. They took refuge in a basement. They alerted Ali, who in turn launched an appeal, taken up by the Sir news agency, and Daniele Nembrini, president of the Human Meet Foundation. He read it and contacted Ali.  After six days, the three families were able to find a place in an Italian army plane. On the way to the airport, the Taliban blocked them several times. They beat up the husband of one daughter, a nephew and Pary Gul herself, who came to the boy's defense.

The woman tells me, “The greatest pain is the thought of my husband. I am not angry with God, everything that happens is within what God wants. But the loss of my husband is like a bottomless pit,” she says. Pary's grief, however, is not just private. Her thoughts are with the many women in her land. “The most terrible condition are those of widows and girls. If you cannot work, how do you support yourself? If you cannot study, what future do you have?” In these twenty years, like her, so many women have hoped that things could change. “We dreamed of democracy. Women could finally work, and study. My daughters went to school, found jobs. “One was a hairdresser, another worked at the airport”.

Now Pary Gul and her family have started a new life. “I would like to give to my daughters a lesson; respect for people, and the ability to be able to express their wishes”. She looks at the ring she is wearing on her left ring finger. The one precious object she brought back from Afghanistan. She wanted to give it to the Pope when they were received on a private visit on September 22. The Holy Father symbolically accepted the gift, but asked her to keep it for him. She touches it, smiles. They too, she says, pointing to her grandchildren, have ghosts to fight. The days in the dungeon, the violence of the Taliban. Memories that a child should not have. However, the present, the possibility of a future, is the medicine, and this serenity is etched on Pary Gul's face. 

by Elisa Calessi