Before his Wednesday General Audience today, Pope Francis met with three Afghan families that fled from Kabul with the help of the Italian military.

Among them was a Catholic family of four children whose father had gone missing after Taliban conducted door-to-door searches, says Pary Gul Hasan Zada, the mother.

“We remained closed in the cellar for four days and four nights for fear of everyone being arrested. My husband first was fired and then arrested, and we have heard nothing more from him. Someone probably denounced us for being Christians.”

Pary Gul said her children, between the ages of 14 and 25, saved the family by sending out an SOS on their cell phones.

She also gave Pope Francis her wedding ring as a reminder of her husband, who kept it “as a commitment of friendship and a sign of hope.”

After arriving in Rome on August 21st, “the first time they were able to attend Mass, they were so overcome that they could only cry.”

“While watching one of the broadcasts of Holy Mass, they had turned up the television so that the entire family would be able to hear it. Through this, a neighbor discovered that they were Christians and betrayed them. It was deeply moving to have the freedom to openly acknowledge their faith. And they said, ‘After having lived in the dark for so many years as secret Christians, it is like being reborn.’ When the family fled for their lives, they took nothing with them. One of the sons was wearing a shirt tailored in the typical Afghan style that he did not take off for days until he arrived in Italy. This shirt was given to Pope Francis as a gift by a journalist who accompanied him on the flight from Hungary to Slovakia.”

Also at the meeting were Gholam and Fatima Abbas with their two children and Zamin Ali and Seema Gul with their three children. All the children there gave Pope Francis pictures they had colored.

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