Afghan Refugees Need Aid Now, Says Papal Envoy

Archbishop Cordes Tells of Those Without a Future

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 4, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A papal envoy, just back from Pakistan, appealed for immediate aid for Afghan refugees, whose homeland he said is engulfed in an "explosive situation."



Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," recently went to Pakistan as John Paul II´s special envoy.

On Oct. 27 the envoy met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, local Catholic leaders, and directors of Catholic humanitarian groups supplying aid to Afghan refugees. Many refugees had fled their country after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Archbishop Cordes celebrated Mass in the Rawalpindi cathedral with the bishops and Pakistani Catholic community "to break the chains of hatred and injustice and implore for the gift of peace."

Over Vatican Radio, the archbishop described his visit to a refugee camp on the Pakistani-Afghan border.

"There were close to 35,000 refugees," he said. "For me, the most tragic fact is that they have no future. The sense of depression among them is great because they don´t know where to go and perhaps they will not even be able to return to Afghanistan.

"We must think of winter, which is approaching, and the cold brings with it many dangers for human life. It is absolutely necessary to continue supplying aid to the refugees."

On several occasions, Archbishop Cordes read the papal message sent to Catholics in Pakistan, expressing the Pope´s closeness to them and assuring them of his prayers.

"[The Holy Father] also makes an appeal: ´We must ardently hope and pray that the bright star of peace may soon shine again over your region, and, in the meantime, be aware of the sufferings of the innumerable men, women and children who ask for immediate relief of a practical nature,´" the prelate explained.

"I also read this message at a meeting of all the local missionaries who in a certain sense represent the ´fortress´ of Catholicism in this country," Archbishop Cordes said.

He continued: "The missionaries often receive telephone calls from their families. ´Come back home, you are in danger there,´ they say. However, they want to stay. I have also encouraged them, saying that only mercenaries leave. If the missionaries go, needless to say the few, the very few Catholics there are, will be even more desperate."

The archbishop described the conflict in Afghanistan as an "explosive situation."

"There are many forces that want evil," he stressed. "We cannot talk of a war of religions. Rather, it is the extremists, the sectarians of the Islamic religion, who provoke this tension."

Asked about debate between those who want the bombing to stop and those who believe that war is necessary to combat terrorism, Archbishop Cordes responded: "I understand, on the one hand, that this war, with its bombings, is a constant threat to man´s good, and above all I understand the fact that the frequent death of innocents provokes very strong reactions."

"On the other hand, the Church has never been involved in concrete decisions," the archbishop said. "I believe I can say with the Pope: ´Violence is never a Christian´s response to violence.´ I believe this is the right thesis."