Click here if you don’t see subscription options
A Taliban fighter sits on the back of a vehicle with a machine gun in front of the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. The U.S. military has taken over Afghanistan's airspace as it struggles to manage a chaotic evacuation after the Taliban rolled into the capital. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Alì Ehsani, 32, knows what life can be like for Christians under the Taliban regime. Born in Kabul in 1989, he and his brother fled when he was 8 after the murder of his parents by the Islamic extremists.

“I know firsthand how difficult it is to be Christians in that country,” Ehsani told Religion News Service on Monday (Aug. 16). “I lived through the horror, the terror of these Taliban.”

Ehsani made it to Rome in 2003 after a five-year journey that he detailed in two books, “Tonight We Watch the Stars” and “The Kids Have Big Dreams.” In 2015, he earned a law degree from a university in Rome.

Since then he has been committed to helping fellow Christians in Afghanistan, including a Catholic family facing persecution after the Taliban regained control of the country in mid-August. The urgency has risen a hundredfold since the U.S. withdrawal in recent weeks ceded the country to the Taliban.

“I know firsthand how difficult it is to be Christians in that country.”

While Afghanistan's new rulers have promised not to shed any blood, some locals fear that the Islamist regime will lead to persecutions and violence, setting the clock back 20 years in terms of freedom and democracy.

Ehsani came into contact with the Christian family in Afghanistan through an Afghan who was also studying in Rome. The two had been friends for some time when Ehsani made the sign of the cross before a meal, and they learned that they shared the Christian faith.

Afghan citizens are not legally allowed to convert to Christianity and there is little data on the number of Christians living in the country. According to the U.S. International Religious Freedom Report, published in 2009, there are between 1,000 and 8,000 Christians secretly practicing their faith in the country. There is only one officially recognized Christian church in Afghanistan, the Catholic chapel inside the Italian Embassy.

Thanks to his friend, Ehsani began communicating via WhatsApp with the Christian family in Afghanistan six months ago, as concerns about the fate of the country began to grow. The family wishes to remain anonymous to avoid being found.

At first, the family was guarded, Ehsani explained, but about three months ago they cautiously revealed that they looked to Pope Francis for spiritual guidance. That’s when Ehsani understood that they are Catholics.

Afghan citizens are not legally allowed to convert to Christianity and there is little data on the number of Christians living in the country.

Since they were not able to attend Mass in Afghanistan, Ehsani began to livestream the services in Rome for them to watch from Kabul. “Their neighbors discovered them one day,” Ehsani told Religion News Service over the phone Monday (Aug. 16), “so they ratted them out two weeks ago.”

As a result, the father of the family was arrested six days ago, Ehsani said, while the rest of the family was forced to flee. “They still don’t know where he is,” he said.

The family told Ehsani that “the Taliban are going door to door” asking whether any Christians live there or in that community. Ehsani hasn’t been able to sleep since he heard the news. “I’m always praying for them,” he said.

He is trying to help the family through humanitarian avenues, hoping they can be included in the Italian government's efforts to evacuate Italian nationals and local allies, amid a global push to welcome Afghan refugees.

Ehsani is also trying to get a letter into Francis' hands in which the family appeals to the pope and the international community to help them leave the country.

“These are days of terror and the idea of falling into the hands of soldiers terrifies me and is anxiety inducing,” read the appeal, which was shared with RNS.

“If they were ever to capture me or other members of my family I would rather die," wrote the family. "We hid with the hope of being found as late as possible. But we don’t know for how long we will be able to protect ourselves in this way.”

With the Taliban going house to house looking for unmarried women, the letter said, it pleaded “to save us from this situation, which is endangering me and many other families, especially Christian girls.”

“These are days of terror and the idea of falling into the hands of soldiers terrifies me and is anxiety inducing.”

Francis made an appeal for Afghanistan on Sunday, hours before the Taliban overran Kabul. “I join in the unanimous concern for the situation in Afghanistan. I ask all of you to pray with me to the God of peace, so that the clamor of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue,” he told faithful after his weekly Angelus prayer.

Meanwhile, the Italian branch of the Catholic aid network Caritas, which has been active in Afghanistan since the early ’90s, announced in a press release on Sunday that the current situation “will lead to the suspension of all activities.”

“Fears are growing about the possibility of maintaining a presence even in the future, as well as for the safety of the few Afghans of Christian belief,” the statement read, adding that Catholic missionaries and priests are also leaving the country. Caritas Italy said it will continue helping Afghan citizens, especially children, from Pakistan.

“I don’t understand why the West left Afghanistan this way,” Ehsani said, “after 20 years of sacrifices, of democracy.”

But Ehsani doesn’t want to get into the politics: “I just want to save this Christian family and possibly others,” he said, adding that for some it might just be “a matter of days” before they are discovered or worse.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

This week on “Jesuitical,” Zac and Ashley are live at Xavier University in Cincinnati with their spiritual director, Eric Sundrup, S.J., sharing their own experiences discerning their paths as young adults and offering insights from Jesuit spirituality to young people navigating big life questions.
JesuiticalMay 24, 2024
China's flag is seen as Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican
Marking the centenary of the first plenary council of the Catholic Church in China, the Vatican hosted a conference earlier this week on challenges and opportunities for Chinese Catholics.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 24, 2024
Jesuit Jacques Monet sitting at a table in a restaurant, smiling and toasting with a glass of white wine. He is wearing a dark suit and a tie with a pin on his lapel.
Jacques Monet, S.J., passed away peacefully on May 14 at the age of 94, leaving behind a great legacy to his church and nation.
John Meehan, S.J.May 24, 2024
Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig in "20th Century Women."
The characters in ‘20th Century Women’ find themselves torn between embracing the new and retreating into the familiar.
John DoughertyMay 24, 2024