For Immediate Release:
Saint Norbert Abbey Welcomes Refugees
As the situation overseas in Afghanistan continues, refugee aid groups are struggling to find housing for the thousands of evacuated refugees. This is also being done during one of the most challenging and expensive housing markets we have seen in years.
Often there is a need for temporary housing until a more permanent solution can be secured. Saint Norbert Abbey has opened its doors and is housing refugees during this transitional period.
“The Norbertines welcome our Afghan sisters and brothers into our Abbey as an expression of our hospitality. Besides food and shelter, they’ve commented how they’ve come to appreciate the Abbey as a place of peace.” said Abbot Dane Radecki, O. Praem.
This gesture by Saint Norbert Abbey is a part of a much greater effort through Catholic Charities that connects faith-based organizations together to assist in providing services and advocacy to refugees. This network allows for the housing and aid of refugees until they are able to secure jobs and support themselves. The service also facilitates Social Security Numbers and work permits.
To date Saint Norbert Abbey has housed 8 refugees, with 1 having moved into permanent housing. Some arrived from New Mexico while others from Fort McCoy. With the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, the Norbertines are expecting to have more arrive in future months. The Norbertines hope to provide a comfortable environment for those arriving during this extremely difficult time.
Two men staying at St. Norbert Abbey both worked at the Kabul International Airport. They recounted the day beginning in the early afternoon when the then President of Afghanistan had an unscheduled flight exiting the country in which the destination was unknown. That evening the Taliban took over the airport gates. “They had guns, they were shooting in the air.” said one. Some of the airport staff were ushered into the north side of the airport where NATO was located. There they waited an hour and a half to board a C130 military plane for a 4 and a half hour flight to an unknown destination. The destination was Qatar, where they stayed in a refugee camp for 23 days. They were then assigned colored wristbands (which at the time they did not know what the colors meant) to determine where their next flight destination would be. The flight was 6 hours to Germany for a refuel and continued on for another 8 hours until landing in Philadelphia. They were given a phone for the first time, and stayed for 1 night until they boarded another flight that would take them to New Mexico. 43 days were spent at the New Mexico camp, until they were told their final destination would be Wisconsin.
Another young man was a student studying computer science when the Taliban took over his country. His brother and father had worked in the army, making them and himself a target. When he and his brother arrived at the airport he said “it was so crowded, people were being pushed to the ground, stomped on”. Once inside the airport gates, they were served military MRE meals. The line to eat was a 2 hour wait. The food contained pork (which Afghan Muslims do not eat) making people sick from what little food they could eat. As the days passed he was told the flight would be soon, but it kept being postponed. “Night was cold, night was really cold. There were so many people” he said. He was separated from his brother based on wristband color, and when he arrived in Qatar he was told that his brother was one of 280 people taken out of the airport and sent back into Afghanistan. His brother is in hiding. When he arrived at the camp in Qatar, he helped translate since he knew english. There was a little boy, 13 years old, separated from his family who he took with him during his stay in the Qatar camp. After 12 days, he had a flight from Qatar to Germany to Philadelphia. The camp would not allow the little boy to go with him because he was underage. After Philadelphia he was flown to the New Mexico camp, and eventually assigned to Wisconsin as his destination.
The day the Taliban took over, one of the men was at the U.S. Embassy. He had worked in special forces for 13 years years prior, and had been at the Embassy for a year. That day he was told to go home and hide. After 5 days, workers from the Embassy said he needed to go with them for an interview at the airport. They took him to a designated spot at the Kabul International Airport where he was escorted by the U.S. military. He was given a meal and colored wristband, then boarded a flight. He arrived in Qatar and spent 5 days there until he had a flight from Qatar to Germany to Philadelphia. His wife and children are still in hiding in Afghanistan. He was not allowed to leave the airport to go to his family once he was escorted inside that day, as the Taliban has his name on a list due to his affiliation with the United States.
All of the refugees housed have their names and biometrics on a Taliban list due to their own affiliations or a family connection to the U.S. or NATO.
Since arriving at Saint Norbert Abbey, they have enjoyed all the different types of meals provided, and the hospitality of the Norbertines. “It’s peaceful here.” said one refugee. The Norbertines have set up a prayer room for them so that they can do their daily prayers, which take place 5 times throughout the day. The Norbertines and refugees have found a connection and similarities through prayer and faith. “Thank you, thank you for everything” said all 4 whose stories were shared. They expressed a deep gratitude to the Norbertines for not only providing food and shelter, but helping them settle into the Green Bay community. They have gone shopping for winter coats and look forward to seeing snow for the first time. “We want to be active in the community.” the refugees said. All of them will be looking for work in the community in hopes to send some of the money earned back to their families to help them get out of the country.
“As one of the foreign born nationals at the Abbey we often have a different experience of multiculturalism and encounter on a daily basis others who live a different faith experience. From dietary customs, to cultural adaptation, it is a lot to take in all at once. On the other side for the new arrivals to their new found home in the USA, it’s the unfamiliar smells and sounds. The homesickness and relentless worrying and shock. The if onlys and the what ifs.” said Fr. David McElroy, O. Praem.
“Looking into the eyes of our new found friends, the pain and sorrow is there. Maybe one day the healing, hope, and hospitality will be real. Perhaps the first steps in that journey were made among a community of strangers who aspire to be prepared for every good work. As St. Norbert would have it.” continued Fr. McElroy O. Praem.
Rooted in deep values of communio and generosity, the Norbertines have a long standing history of hospitality. The Norbertines have been ministering in the Green Bay area for over 125 years. As the Norbertine Order celebrates its 900th year, it is important to celebrate these core values of hospitality and welcome to those in need.
To learn more about the Saint Norbert Abbey: https://norbertines.org/
To learn more about Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Service: https://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/our-vision-and-ministry/immigration-refugee-services/
To lean more about Diocese of Green Bay Immigration and Refugee Services: https://catholiccharitiesgb.org/immigrants-refugees
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