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Sister Erin Zubal's refugee ministry

Posted February 25, 2022 in Articles
Author: Sister Beverly Anne LoGrasso

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“Do not mistreat foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as you love yourself. Remember, as you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.” --Lev. 19: 33-34

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.” --Matt. 25: 35-36

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” --Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

According to the United Nations, Council on Foreign Relations, Global Conflict Tracker, report (Global Conflict Tracker l Council on Foreign Relations (cfr.org), there are currently 4.5 million internally displaced persons worldwide being served by 20,025 UN personnel. 310,000 of these persons are people displaced in “the triangle of death,” an area in Central Africa including Tanganyika, Maniema, and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

This displacement was caused by a lethal combination of simultaneous factors: a deadly Ebola virus outbreak, a weak government, and more than one hundred armed vigilante groups. Millions of civilians have fled. The August 13, 2021 United Nations report has documented “widespread and systemic abuse including sexual attacks against women and girls leading to sexual slavery.”

Women and girls at risk would be a clarion call for followers of St. Angela Merici, and Sister Erin Zubal responded to that call. Five years ago, when Sister Erin was a guidance counselor at Cleveland Central Catholic High School, Sister Anne Maline, SND, principal of Metro Catholic School on Cleveland’s Near West Side, asked Sister Erin to work with resettling Congolese refugees who were in Cleveland and would be attending Cleveland Central Catholic. Local Cleveland partner organizations include Refugee Response, US Together, and Catholic Migration and Refugee Services.

Sister Erin began working with two young women, sixteen year old twins, Butoto and Bukuru, who were learning to speak English and who helped to familiarize Sister Erin with their extended Congolese family members and culture. Eleven of their extended family members are living on Cleveland’s Near West Side including the mother of the family, Furaha Kashindi.

As the Kashindi family members began to acculturate, they needed assistance with language proficiency and navigation of available social support systems, such as citizen applications and employment. Sister Erin has extended this original effort to include six Congolese families who are visited once or twice a week for a check-in with Sister Erin which might include a variety of needed tasks: help with homework, English lessons, rides to sports events, driving lessons and prescription pick up.

Sister Erin’s educational background and professional experience and skills uniquely suit her as a refugee advocate. Sister Erin holds an MA in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University and was a teacher of Peace and Justice theology at Beaumont School, as well as a guidance counselor at Cleveland Central Catholic.

Sister Erin feels welcome when she enjoys a Congolese meal of fruit, rice, beans, and fish with the Kashindi family and admires the Kashindi family’s dedication to extended family members. The Kashindi family visits these extended family members to share food and participate in supportive communal grieving. Sister Erin appreciates the struggle the Kashindi family endured to come here and quotes Mrs. Kashindi: “God spared us” from war, poverty, and violence. Sister Erin is edified when she sees how hard every family member is working to achieve success in America and fulfill their hopes and dreams.

She finds inspiration also when she hears the family speak about their love of Swahili Mass with drums and music at St. Colman Church. Sister Erin has learned Swahili traditions of faith and culture from the Kashindi family. One example she points out is the Swahili tradition of attending New Year’s Eve Mass to thank God for the past year and welcome the New Year.  “It is an honor and privilege to walk with the Congolese community as they make their home in the United States. They model unwavering faith, perseverance, compassion, and deep love of family that makes our neighborhoods and communities better.  My life has been enriched by their presence and I am forever blessed they count me among their community.”

Sister Erin’s ministry has spanned elementary to high school administration. Recently, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice announced that Sister Erin Zubal will serve as its first Chief of Staff. We congratulate her on her new ministry and will share more of the next part of her journey in a future Ursuline Sisters newsletter.