The Survival Guide to Kabul©

Published internationally in July 2003 as Kabul: The Bradt Mini Guide.

First published in Kabul in September 2002 as a pamphlet.



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Catholic Mass at the Italian Embassy in Kabul


Every Sunday at 17.00 and on Feast days





By John R. White


The weekly mass at the Italian Embassy in Kabul is a truly international affair.  Father Moretti welcomed us all in English and we followed the service in our missals as we moved towards the readings from scripture.  Then a French lady stepped forward to deliver the first lesson followed by an American reading from the psalms.  A member of the home team then pitched in to read from the New Testament in Italian.


When I first arrived in Kabul 18 months ago, the small chapel in the Embassy was being looked after by three nuns who, over the preceding 20 years or so had cared for it while living discreetly through Russian occupation, Civil War and then five years of the Taleban regime.  Fr Moretti left after being severely wounded in a rocket attack in 1994 but returned shortly after ISAF, the International Security Force, arrived at the beginning of 2002.  ISAF possessed a richness of Roman Catholic Chaplains and the British Padre, Father Mark O’Keeffe, concelebrated mass with his German, Spanish and Italian colleagues every Sunday.  Guarded by a small force of Carabinieri in the ISAF Headquarters, he would be given a fortifying espresso by his escort who then doubled him the 500 metres down the road to the Embassy.


I irreverently wondered if, given the rising temperature in the small chapel, we would be spared a sermon but Fr Moretti rose to the occasion delivering one first in English then, as far as my schoolboy knowledge of the language could determine, a different theme in French.  But the pièce de resistance was reserved for the mother tongue when, placing aside the closely typed notes from the first two homilies, he preached to a full accompaniment of gesticulation and vocal pitch.  It was a virtuoso performance though I did not understand a word.


As we stepped out of the chapel, the half dozen or so American bodyguards from the many private security firms operating in the city reapplied earpieces, mirrored sunglasses and weaponry which they had thoughtfully left at the rear of the chapel and sauntered to their darkened, armoured vehicles for the half mile dash to their fortified compounds.  Ineligible for such measures myself but with the protection of my UN beret to guard me from all mortal danger, I walked towards the main gate, this small oasis of green with its ornamental gardens seeming strangely incongruous among the otherwise dusty ochre of Kabul. 


Outside on the road, faced with another billboard depicting Ahmed Shah Masood, the charismatic leader of the Northern Alliance, killed by two Arab suicide bombers three days before their colleagues launched their attacks in New York and Washington, I reflected on how his images seem increasingly messianic.  Perhaps the mystical reverence with which he is held, with a bit of help from the combined efforts of 16,000 coalition troops still operating in Afghanistan, will eventually bring stability to this country whose previous leaders have so frequently failed.


كابل، افغانستان

The Survival Guide to Kabul©