‘Situation is ‘ Changing’ & ‘Chaotic’ says Jesuit Priest Fr Jerome Sequeira SJ of Moodbidri, along with yet another Jesuit Priest Fr Robert Rodrigues SJ, Stranded in Afghanistan
A Jesuit priest who is currently stranded in Afghanistan following the takeover by the militant Taliban of the country this week said the situation is “changing” and “chaotic.” “The way the situation is changing in the country, it is anyone’s imagination,” said Father Jerome Sequeira, head of the Jesuit mission in Afghanistan, in a letter to friends and colleagues. The priest said the mission has already suspended its activities across the country and has ensured the safety of all its staff.
The Jesuit priest, Fr Jerome Sequeira SJ, aged 52, a resident of Kallkuri from Siddakatte of Sangabettu village near Moodbidri is stranded in strife-ridden Afghanistan. Fr Jerome is working as the head in-charge of Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), an international NGO in Kabul. Yet another Jesuit priest Fr P Robert Rodrigues SJ from Thirthahalli, in Shivamogga district is also stranded in that country. Fr Jerome was serving as a principal in Jamshedpur, until he left for Afghanistan in December 2020. It is learnt that Fr Jerome was set to return to India, but was waiting for another priest to take his place, sources said. Fr Robert Rodrigues SJ was working in Bamiyan in Central Afghanistan province.
FATHER JEROME SEQUEIRA SJ
An SOS message shared by Fr Jerome Sequeira, 52, to his colleagues, read, “I managed to reach the airport and it is unbelievable. The Taliban have taken positions on the roads as well as at the airport. I had to drag my luggage in the midst of a large crowd and vehicles on the road. Thousands of people are trying to flee. I managed to reach the second gate at the airport, but then the Taliban started shooting in the air, in order to control the crowd. Before I reached the airport, thousands of people had managed to enter the airport building, but the airport staff had abandoned the place. People went into planes without any security check or boarding passes.”
He also shared in his message that “[The Jesuit Refugee Service] has suspended all activities for an indefinite period of time, and all are hibernating in their homes or communities. All flights are canceled and it all depends on the agreement between [the United Nations] bodies and the Taliban”. The Jesuit service “is putting all efforts” to evacuate him and another Jesuit priest, he added. His family said that he was in contact with them, and that they were praying for his safe return to India.
FATHER ROBERT RODRIGUES SJ
“Thank you for your continued prayers for our safety,” said Father Sequeira, even as he added that “safety does not make sense here” anymore because of the situation. The priest said, “The Taliban are busy occupying all government systems and putting their own persons.” “They are not harming the civilians at the moment, but it will come once they fully capture all the systems of the country,” said the Jesuit.
He said that the militant group has a list of all organizations. “In some places, they have started door-to-door inquiries about the personnel of organizations,” said the priest. Father Sequeira said, “Thousands of people are trying to flee” and are fleeing to airports. “The Taliban were shooting in the air and trying to control the crowd,” he said. The priest ended his letter, saying “Did we, the international community, invest so much and establish so much in the last 20 years just to hand it over to the Taliban in a matter of days?”
A close family member of the priest told the media that Fr Jerome is safe. “At this time of distress, we would not like to divulge any further information about his condition and whereabouts,” the family member said. When Fr Jerome had spoken to his brother over the phone a couple of days ago, he told him that he was staying close to Kabul airport. Fr Jerome’s family also contacted Society of Jesus heads, who are now in contact with MEA officials and the Indian embassy in Afghanistan.
Fr Jerome has also said that Fr Robert had gone to the Bamiyan airport, checked in and waited for the UN flight to land. Ït takes only 25 minutes from Bamiyan to Kabul. The situation changed dramatically and the airport security personnel just abandoned the airport. We made sure that Fr Robert is fine and now he is much better and relaxed. We are finding ways to evacuate him from Bamiyan to Kabul with the help of UN agencies,” had said Fr Jerome.
Meanwhile, here in Mangaluru, Fr Melwin Pinto SJ, the Rector of St Aloysius Institutions said, “Fr Jerome Sequeira was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2006 and later worked as the principal of an institution in Jamshedpur province before moving to Afghanistan in December 2020. Fr Clifford Sequeira SJ, the Principal of St Aloysius PU College, Mangaluru speaking to Team Mangalorean said, “Fr Robert is our Jesuit brother and I am in admiration of the way he conducted himself in his two years at St Joseph’s Boys High School in Bengaluru, investing a great deal of enthusiasm and energy into his multiple roles. As a teacher, primary administrator, campus minister, in-charge of the chapel, animator of altar boys and CLC, House minister and administrator of Jesuit Nivas, he wore many hats. Only someone with his dedication and discipline would have been able to carry it off so splendidly.
“Fr Robert has shown innovation in organizing and planning the various events under his charge, always committed to the school and the children. He was often the first person in school, ready and waiting for the day to begin. I can say with certainty that Fr Robert demanded of himself the same that he demanded of the others around him. I am sure that He and Fr Jerome Sequeira will be safe and return to India safely soon” added Fr Clifford Sequeira SJ, who was then the Principal of St Joseph’s Boys High School, Bengaluru.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis asked for prayers for the people of Afghanistan. “I ask all of you to pray with me to the God of peace so that the clamour of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue. Only thus can the battered population of that country – men, women, elderly and children – return to their own homes, and live in peace and security, in total mutual respect,” he added.