In late October 2021, Catholic Charities of San Antonio (CCOSA) sent out a request for Religious Sisters to volunteer for at least two weeks to assist with the influx of Afghan refugees arriving in San Antonio, Texas. The refugees were members of Afghan security forces who had been working with the American Military. The men and some family members with visas had travelled for months from Kabul or Kandahar to Italy or Germany, then to Qatar, and from there to a military base in the U.S. and finally to San Antonio.
Sisters from many congregations were able to respond to this request, including four Sparkill Dominicans, Sisters Jeannine DeClue and Martha Jaegers from St. Louis, Catherine Patrice from New Jersey, and me (from Montana). We were there for periods of two weeks between October 29 and November 20. Housing for the volunteers was provided by the Sisters of Divine Providence in their convent at Lakeside.
Volunteers were assigned to various duties. My assignment included greeting new arrivals at a hotel, setting up a used clothing room, helping to distribute food, and demonstrating how to use microwaves, washers, and dryers. After processing paperwork for the refugees, CCOSA personnel relocated individuals or families to apartments, Airbnbs, or mobile homes. Volunteers delivered bedding, kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, and groceries to those who transitioned from the hotel into rentals. Staff members assisted the men with employment options. Children were enrolled immediately in school, and adults were encouraged to attend language classes.
One evening, another Sister and I delivered groceries to a young refugee couple. The husband spoke a few words of English and invited us to visit. Since they had no furniture, we sat on the floor and tried to converse while his wife boiled water for green tea. Despite the language difficulties, we had an enjoyable visit. Eventually, they indicated that it was their prayer time, so we thanked them for their hospitality. My only concern was whether or not I would be able to stand after sitting uncomfortably for over an hour on the floor, but fortunately “Kane was able.”
The most memorable part of my two weeks was conversing with Afghans about their food, faith, and families. Men frequently stopped by to share pictures of their wives, children, or parents. Widows and children grieved for friends and family they left behind or those lost in the war. All were hoping for a better future.
On the wall in my office in Montana, I have a poster from National Migration Week 1995. It is a picture of a beautiful quilt with faces of migrants and refugees from around the world. Beneath the quilt are the words: All come bearing gifts. Every newcomer adds color, beauty and strength to the fabric of our society.
– Sister Kathleen Kane, OP
Sister Kathleen has ministered among the Native Americans in Montana since 1973. She currently does pastoral outreach in Big Sandy and at Box Elder, Rocky Boy’s Reservation.