JRS keeps Afghanistan schools running despite missing director

Thrissur, India

Jesuit Refugee Service is keeping half a dozen schools in troubled Afghanistan running despite no trace of its coordinator in Afghanistan, who was kidnapped in early June.

Indian Jesuit Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, who headed the JRS operations in Afghanistan, was abducted by gunmen June 2 at a school run by JRS in Herat province.

"Although we still have not heard from him or his captors, we live in hope. All the information we have continues to suggest that he is alive and he remains in Afghanistan," Jesuit Fr.Peter Balleis, international director of JRS, said in a statement Monday.

"After a brief closure last month, we have just reopened the majority of our educational programs, relying on our able Afghan colleagues to lead this effort," he said.

"We remain committed to accompany our Afghan students and their families in their desire for quality education, and reopening our schools is a clear sign of that commitment," he added.

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The statement said the school in Sohadat, where Kumar was kidnapped, "will reopen upon his release" even as "students and their families in Sohadat pray daily for his release and long for the day when they will see him again in their school."

The JRS statement also admitted that "the current political situation in Afghanistan, following the presidential elections of last month, may make the process of his release more complicated than we had imagined."

Reiterating that JRS was doing "everything in our power to ensure" Kumar's safety, Balleis expressed the optimism that by the end of Ramadan in late July, his kidnappers would release him as an Eid al-Fitr gift.

"It is not enough to hear that he is safe. We want to know his whereabouts. We want him released at the earliest," Albert Manoharan, brother of the kidnapped priest, told CNS on Wednesday.

"We came to Chennai today to meet the chief minister. Words cannot explain our anxiety and feelings," said Manoharan, a schoolteacher who traveled more than 250 miles for the meeting.

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July 14-27, 2017