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Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:Afghanistan

See a list of abbreviations used in this list. See also our listing of current ecclesial jurisdictions.

1879
Kafiristan / or: Afghanistan (AP, established by the "Propaganda Fide", detached from Bombay) - (British India) Afghanistan
2002
Afghanistan (Miss., established by the "Propaganda Fide", detached from Agra, and from Patna?) - (British India) Afghanistan

Background information

In Afghanistan, there is only one Catholic Church, namely the chapel of the Italian Embassy in Kabul. Italy had resumed diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in the 1920'ies, and obtained the permission to build a Catholic Church. This church was opened in 1933, and an Italian priest was allowed to take up pastoral work among the international community in Kabul. This church remained closed from the end of the Najibullah regime until its reopening in January 2002.

During the time of the Afghan monarchy, the open proclamation of the Gospel was prohibited. But three Christian groups were allowed to work in the country, even during the civil war: A four-member Catholic community of the Little Sisters of Jesus, a Lutheran group ("Christusträger") running the only leprosium of the country, and the ecumenical "International Assistant Mission", which operated an eye clinic and a birth clinic in Herat and Kabul. These three groups were also able to carry out their apostolate during the Taliban years.

Christianity has an ancient past in Afghanistan. From the 6th century, Herat was a Metropolitan see of the Apostolic Church of the East (the church in ancient Persia). From the 9th century, Herat was also the see of a Syrian-Orthodox Metropolitan. There was also dioceses of the same two churches in Zarang (on the present Afghani-Iranian border), and about the year 1000, the Syrian Orthodox Diocese of Zarang was elevated to a Metropolitan See.

Christianity was probably extinguished completely in the 14th century, during the great persecution of Tamerlane (Timur Lenk).

From 1735 until 1897, Kabul had an Armenian Apostolic parish.

As to the actions of the Propaganda Fide regarding Afghanistan, it seems a little hard to reconcile different strands of information with one another. The reconstruction of events sttempted here is somewhat unsatisdactory, as details come from basically two different sources and may or may not be mutually reconcilable.

In 1878, the Propaganda Fide invited the Mill Hill Fathers to take care of the "Mission" of Afghanistan, and that seems that such a structure had been formally established at that time.

The Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide at Rome mentioned in a document dated April 13, 1878 Fr George Browne as the *pro tempore* superior of the Afghan mission. On February 4, 1879 Giovanni Cardinal Simeoni, the prefect of the same Congregation, wrote to Mgr Vaughan, the Superior of the Mill Hill Fathers that he was grateful for his willingness to send four missionaries to Afghanistan to provide for the spiritual needs of that country and that he would inform the Vicar Apostolic of Agra and the Vicar apostolic of Patna in India of the arrival of the new missionaries so that the Capuchin Fathers could withdraw from this activity. Priests were then appointed to Kurram and Lundi Kotal and to Quetta and Kandahar.

The boundaries of the Vicariate do not seem to have been fixed in detail. Whether Quetta belonged to the jurisdiction of the Provicar Apostolic of Afghanistan does not seen to have been clear. It seems that the southern boundary was discussed in Rome, as Fr Browne in a letter dated July 15, 1880 he says that "Propaganda,?, has already christened our mission 'the vicariate of Upper India and is now considering it southern boundary."

From another source, we have the information that the Catholic Church in 1879 attempted to establish the Apostolic Prefecture of Kafiristan (or maybe Afghanistan), entrusted to the Mill Hill Fathers. Kafiristan was the easternmost province of Afghanistan, and had since the time of Alexander the Great adhered to an ancient Greek religion. The attempt failed at the Mill Mill fathers were unable to commence their mission.

Some years later, in 1887, the Apostolic Prefecture of Kafiristan and Kashmir was erected in India. No missionary efforts were carried out in the small part of this mission which extended into present-day Afghan territory (the western part of Kafiristan). After that part was conquered by the Emir of Kabul, the Kafirs were forcibly converted to Islam in 1895-96, or killed.

One wonders whether the 1879 attempt was distinct from the 1878, so that there at roughly the same time was attempted to establish one jurisdiction (1878 Miss., 1880 AV) for Afghanistan moe or less as we know it today (minus western Kafiristan, now Nurestan, and maybe plus Quetta), and another one for Kafiristan (1879 AP), an area straddling the present Afghani-Pakistani common border in the north.

In any case, wether two ore one jurisdiction were attempted, the British departure from Afghanistan in 1881 lead to the collapse of the missionary efforts that same year. And Quetta, now part of Pakistan, were abandoned by the missionaries in 1883.

-CT