Wisconsin bishops urge support for Afghan guests at Fort McCoy

MADISON — Wisconsin’s Catholic bishops have issued a statement in support of those displaced from Afghanistan and residing at Fort McCoy. In welcoming the Afghan refugees, the bishops noted the trauma, deprivation and chaos these individuals have endured.

To help the refugees navigate this dramatic transition, the bishops are providing a $30,000 donation to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse, which has led Fort McCoy assistance efforts among the state’s five Catholic Charities agencies.

U.S. Army soldiers at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va., assist Afghanistan families as they depart an evacuees’ processing center Aug. 25, 2021. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

In their statement dated Sept. 16, (posted below) the bishops also urged Catholics to make donations at cclse.org/afghanistan-refugee-assistance/ or by supporting similar diocesan and parish collections.

Catholic efforts to serve Wisconsin’s new, temporary Afghan community are being led by the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), which has long served as a federally recognized refugee assistance and resettlement agency. The USCCB has partnered with local Catholic Charities agencies and other Catholic partners to serve Afghan families temporarily housed on military bases around the country.

In Wisconsin, the USCCB is the agency responsible for providing on-base legal assistance and social engagement for women and children, which it does with support from the U.S. State Department. Wisconsin Catholic Charities agencies are the principal source of volunteers and material donations to those living on base.

Nearly 13,000 Afghans are living at Fort McCoy. This includes 55% male and 45% female,. Almost 50% are age 18 or younger and many are part of large, extended families. All guests receive vaccinations and are vetted to avoid security threats.  Medical needs are met by army personnel and those serving at local area hospitals.

While many Afghan guests are eager to return to a normal way of life, it will likely be several more months before all will be able to relocate, according to officials.

“To get all these individuals the legal filings and documentation necessary to move to their new homes is a massive undertaking, one that isn’t even a month old,” said Chris Hennemeyer, USCCB MRS consultant. “It’s why providing socialization, wellness and recreation, as well as legal assistance is so critical.”

The Wisconsin bishops noted in their statement that a reported 400 Afghan immigrants are likely to remain and settle in Wisconsin. Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Green Bay is one of the entities that may be called upon to assist this population with the longer resettlement process.

As the bishops noted, “…the needs of this community will continue for months and years to come.”

The USCCB and Catholic Charities are seeking more volunteers to aid in this mission.  Volunteers will assist women and children through the base’s four social centers, aid in legal advisory services, and support the learning center. The social centers alone require up to 20 volunteers per day.

Individuals must be able to commit to at least two weeks of volunteering, though longer commitments are preferred.  On-base shifts occur during the business day, and while food and lodging can be provided off-base, the limited availability of accommodations surrounding Fort McCoy make those who live close to the base ideal volunteer candidates.


Statement of Wisconsin bishops on welcoming Afghan refugees

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

As the Catholic bishops of Wisconsin, we welcome the thousands of Afghan refugees who have arrived at Fort McCoy.  After a harrowing departure from their homeland, they need the most basic necessities.  To this end, we are directing our Catholic Charities agencies and parishes to do the utmost to assist them.  Of the five Catholic Charities agencies that serve our state, the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse, where Fort McCoy is located, is serving those who reside on base.  Therefore, we are making an initial donation of $30,000 to the agency.  Catholics are strongly encouraged make their own donations on the La Crosse Catholic Charities Afghanistan Refugee Assistance website, cclse.org/Afghanistan-refugee-assistance/, or to local diocesan or parish collections designed to serve the Afghan refugees.  At this time, monetary donations are preferable to donations of material goods.

As Catholics, we are called to welcome the stranger.  The over 12,500 guests at Fort McCoy will continue to need assistance in the coming months, especially legal assistance, social interaction, and warm clothing for winter.  It has been reported that, after careful vetting, close to 400 of these guests will be resettled in Wisconsin.  Therefore, the needs of this community will continue for months and years to come.

We urge all Catholics to open their hearts to those who have lost so much.  Even more than material goods, these men, women, and children need to find friendship and security.  They need to be shown that there is great hope for their futures and that their presence is welcome in our beautiful state.  Having endured enormous trauma, they need time and support to heal.  May God bless them and keep them in His care.


Most Rev. Jerome E. Listecki, Archbishop of Milwaukee

Most Rev. Donald J. Hying, Bishop of Madison

Most Rev. David L. Ricken, Bishop of Green Bay

Most Rev. William P. Callahan, OFM Conv., Bishop of La Crosse

Most Rev. James P. Powers, Bishop of Superior