Refugees Experience First Thanksgiving With Catholic Charities

Bob Roberts
November 17, 2018 - 5:14 pm
Thanksgiving table

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- For many of the 70 refugee families laughing and playing in the basement of an Uptown church Saturday, it was their first American Thanksgiving -- a traditional dinner, with halal chicken instead of turkey. 

Many of the adults said they faced persecution or worse in their homelands and are thankful to be in Chicago.

As some children played bean bag toss, had their faces painted or dashed around the basement of St. Thomas of Canterbury Church, at 4823 N. Kenmore Av., the adults told grim stories.  Bruce Bwambale faced punishment for aiding LBGT Ugandans.

"I was going to be sentenced to prison for life," he said. 

Instead, he escaped to Kenya and found help with a United Nations program that put him in touch with Catholic Charities, which resettled Bwambale here -- where he can speak his mind and help those who need it.

"Chicago is a great place," he said.  "There is no place that I have ever seen in my life that is better than Chicago."

And for that, he said, he is truly thankful.

The director of Catholic Charities refugee and resettlement program in Cook and Lake Counties, Elma Kubovic, said refugees can turn to her agency for housing assistance, search for jobs and case management. 

Kubovic herself was once a refugee helped by Catholic Charities when she escaped the former Yugoslavia.  She said the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s has largely been replaced by religious persecution, but said Catholic Charities will help someone regardless of beliefs or health. She said the number of refugees it assisted last year dropped sharply, from 100,000 to 23,000, because of government program changes.