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Bishop says lack of church ties a big hurdle in aiding Afghanistan

One of the biggest hurdles for Catholic relief organisations in trying to provide help in Afghanistan is the lack of any church institutions after years of rule by the fundamentalist Taliban, according to the bishop who chairs the US Catholic relief agency's board of directors.

Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, told the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at its general meeting last week that, unlike other recent emergency relief operations, "aid to Afghanistan is fraught with enormous complexity, immense operational constraints and a lack of security."

First and foremost is that there is no tangible Catholic community in Afghanistan, he said. "There is no Catholic clergy or laity operating parishes or running social service institutions in that country."

In most places the Catholic agency operates, at least some sort of church structure exists through which CRS is able to bring assistance to local populations.

CRS, the U.S. church's overseas relief and development agency, withdrew its international staff from Afghanistan in 1999 after the Taliban government imposed so many restrictions it became impossible for the international staff to remain, Bishop Ricard said. "We continued assistance in a more measured way through an organization run by our Afghan national staff."

Afghan Regional Crisis (Catholic Relief Services)