Faith Matters

Pope Francis urges prayers for Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St Peter's Square, at the Vatican, on Sunday. Picture by Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

Pope Francis has asked believers to pray for Afghanistan following the swift Taliban takeover.

In his address to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption on Sunday, the pontiff called for dialogue to end the conflict in the central Asian country.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Sunday, just 10 days after it began its advance across the country.

The extremist group is now in control of Afghanistan for the first time in almost 20 years after the government fell and President Ashraf Ghani was forced to flee.

The pontiff told pilgrims and tourists in St Peter's Square: "I join in the unanimous worry about the situation in Afghanistan".

"I ask you to pray along with me to the God of peace so that the din of weapons ends and that solutions can be found around a table of dialogue," he said.

"Only this way can the martyred population of that country - men, women, elderly and children - return to their homes and live in peace and security in full reciprocal respect."

Fr Giancarlo La Vella, a missionary with the Barnabites, responsible for the independent mission of Afghanistan appealed for peace and prayers.

He told Vatican Radio: “We are living days of great apprehension as we await what happens. My appeal to the listeners of Vatican Radio is to pray...pray, pray, pray for Afghanistan. Thank you.”

Several thousand Christians live in Afghanistan - a very small section of the 38 million majority Muslim population.

A 2015 study estimated around 3,300 Christians lived in the country - many of whom are foreigners who work in embassies or are employed by aid organisations.

However, any figure can only be an estimation because Christians in Afghanistan must keep their faith secret.

The Taliban were ousted 20 years ago in the joint US and British invasion of 2001.

The invasion came after the Taliban sheltered Osama bin Laden and key al Qaeda figures in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

However, the group was emboldened by the large-scale withdrawal of US troops this year.

The Taliban advance has already led to a humanitarian disaster.

More than 250,000 people, 80 per cent of them women and children, have fled their homes since May.

A large number of refugees have crossed the border into Uzbekistan while others have travelled to Pakistan.

There are fears that the Taliban takeover could wipe out two decades of advances in women's rights.

The group aims to again enforce its own austere version of Sharia law.

Women face no longer being allowed to work, to leave their homes unaccompanied and without a burqa, or have access to more than the most basic education.

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