“Congratulations and welcome to the United States!” my friend told me when I shared that I will have my Naturalization Oath Ceremony in Portland. At that time, it felt funny because I have been living in the US since 2006. I know 13 years is not a very long time, but I see myself spending the rest of my life here – in this great nation I have called my home since I arrived in 2006. Reflecting more on the magnitude of what it means to change citizenship, I realized that it is bitter sweet. Bitter, because I will not be a citizen of the country I was born in and love and sweet, because of how great the USA really is and what a privilege it is to be her citizen! What made the decision to be a citizen of the United States somewhat easier was the fact that I am now a priest here and my ministry is here with the people I have grown to love.
I grew up in a poor country but I am blessed because both my parents worked for a living and I had the privilege of having a good Catholic education. I was provided with the things I needed and most of the time, even the things I wanted. I grew up in a country of people who are very generous and welcoming, not because they have a lot to give but because they know how it is to have nothing. But even if there was poverty everywhere, I never felt poor because of the sharing and generous nature of Filipinos who are highly influenced by Christian values. Having a strong Catholic foundation and being active in the parish community where I grew up in, I was never surprised when I started discerning a vocation to the priesthood – some say “it’s in the blood” with my father’s uncle being the first Filipino Benedictine priest and his brother a diocesan priest. But the thing is, I never thought of becoming a priest here and becoming a citizen of the great USA. I never thought of taking my place and being among the likes of the great men and women of this nation, people I have only read about in history books. It is a great privilege and honor to be counted as a citizen of a nation that does great things not only for her own people but also for the people of the world. From now on, I will be an American citizen – it sure feels surreal to write it, much more to say it. God’s will and plan for us can really be surprising. I am and will always be grateful.
As I bid a sad goodbye (I must) to my Filipino citizenship, I embrace with joy this country I now call home. I am grateful for the welcome. I will continue to live out the values I have from the country I came from while I continue to embrace and love this great nation. “In God We Trust”, a national motto I can now call my own. May God continue to bless us all and may God bless America.