Like many Afghan people, Samiullah* helped the U.S. military during the years they were in Afghanistan. So when the Taliban regained control of the region in 2021, he knew he could not stay.
Fortunately, he found open arms and a warm welcome in the United States, largely thanks to the dedicated work of the team at Catholic Charities.
Samiullah was a pilot in the Afghan military, so it was no longer safe for him to stay in the country after the Taliban takeover. If the Taliban didn’t kill him for being in the military, he would have faced recruitment.
He was able to enter the U.S. quickly under the Afghan Placement & Assistance program. He arrived in Indiana in December, and currently rents a home with other refugee men.
“Catholic Charities has helped me a lot,” he said through an interpreter, in an interview with Aleteia. Case managers have helped him and other refugees find a place to rent, provided basic assistance, and prepared them for employment.
Samiullah especially liked the Job Readiness class that Catholic Charities offered, saying it was “very helpful.” The class showed him how to apply for a job, open a bank account and utilize public transportation.
“Catholic Charities has helped me every step of the way in filling out important documents and being there to answer questions,” he said.
His biggest challenge right now is missing his wife and child in Afghanistan. He “desperately wants to be reunited,” he said, and he isn’t sure when that will happen. He knows the first step is to get his asylum granted, and he’s grateful that the Immigration Services department at Catholic Charities will help him with that process.
But overall, his resettlement in the U.S. has gone very well. He’s already found employment and is hard at work at Amazon. He said he “still loves flying” and hopes to become a pilot or flight engineer again someday. He is enjoying living in Fort Wayne because it has a large refugee population.
The privilege of serving refugees
Someone who played a leading role in resettling Samiullah and other Afghan refugees is Dan Florin, the new CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. We had the chance to catch up with Florin and ask him about his work with refugees.
Florin is relatively new to this work, but not to leadership and service. After 34 years in corporate America, he felt called to put his business experience to work in serving the Church. He joined the Board of Catholic Charities in early 2020 and accepted the CEO position in February 2022. He and his wife have seven children and eight grandchildren.
Florin explained that Catholic Charities has been resettling refugees in the Fort Wayne area since 1975. In the spring of 2021, Catholic Charities was asked to consider opening a sub-refugee resettlement program in its South Bend office. Things sped up quickly with the need to resettle Afghan refugees. Florin said,
“We began laying the plans for the expansion and expected the official approval by September; then our plan was to hire new staff and begin receiving families in the new year. Then August 2021 hit … We were all glued to our TVs, seeing the images of the U.S. military departing Afghanistan and all those desperate Afghan and American people left behind. Not surprisingly, we received the approval to open the South Bend office right away, and we knew that we had a lot of work to do!”
A cooperative effort
Catholic Charities immediately reached out to local parishes for volunteers. “The response was amazing!” he said. In addition, the University of Notre Dame Community Engagement Department helped secure a house for one of the families, along with material donations.
Together with Catholic Charities staff and volunteers, Florin helped move furniture and set up the houses. They made trips to the local stores to purchase mattresses and box springs.
“I was glad to be part of the preparation, but the greatest privilege has been the opportunity to meet the families and help them settle into the community,” he said.
Soon after their arrival, he brought the refugee families to the local mosque for their Friday prayer service. “While I stood in the back of the mosque, I thanked God for this opportunity and for our Catholic faith, because it is Catholic Social Teaching that reminds us each day of our duty to take care of others.”
Following the service, he took one of the families to the local grocery store and then home. “They invited me in for tea, cookies and sweet rice,” he said. “I pray that I will be lifelong friends with this family. We even hired one of the sons as a refugee case manager!”
One especially inspiring part of the resettlement has been the support of every local religious community.
“We have had an overwhelming response,” Florin said, “receiving support from just about every major religion.” He described the generosity of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian communities, who have supported the work of Catholic Charities in many ways.
It’s beautiful to see people of so many different faiths come together for a common cause. Together they are welcoming and helping those in need, with Catholic Charities at the helm.
These are, of course, only a handful of the many stories that could be told about the Afghan refugee resettlement program. But hearing about their work is really inspiring. It’s the kind of “good news” story that hopefully encourages us all to do our part to make the world a better place.
*name changed to protect privacy