On a crisp February morning, 811 people representing 83 countries gathered in the floor of the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.
Their backgrounds were varied, but they were unified in a singular goal — to become citizens of the United States.
The process of paperwork and studying for the citizenship test takes at least three years.
For many, the task of gaining legal status takes even longer.
Among those who, with papers in hand, filed into the historic building was Nigerian-born Fr. Ambrose of St. Dominic Catholic Church in Colfax.
Twelve years ago Father Ambrose responded to a call for a priest in the Sacramento area. For ten years he served in parishes throughout the Sacramento Valley and in Yuba City.
Two years ago he was appointed the parochial administrator of St. Dominic Parish.
“I came to the United States in 1997. After holding my green card for five years, and establishing residence I applied for citizenship,” said Fr. Ambrose. “There is great anticipation in becoming a United States citizen.”
The dream of becoming an American began taking shape as he entered adulthood.
“When I went to seminary,” he said, “I used to listen to Voice of America, a news station broadcast in foreign countries, every night at 7 on my shortwave radio.”
Now he is looking forward to participating in the democratic process he heard about on those radio shows.
“There is also a full sense of belonging,” said the amiable priest with a quick smile.
Fr. Ambrose can relate to the Catholic Church’s recent “Catholics Come Home” campaign.
The nationwide effort began as a grass roots movement to encourage those who have left the Catholic Church for one reason or another to return to their faith.
“People have changed over the last 20 or 30 years and so has the church in many aspects,” he said. “We want people to know that they may have left the Catholic Church, but the Church is still here and cares about them.”
Much as he wanted to belong to the U.S., Fr. Ambrose believes many crave the need to belong to a church community.
Reaching out to the community in an attempt to re-establish dialog with Catholics who no longer attend church has gotten positive feedback.
Fr. Ambrose noted that several families have accepted the invitation to “come home.”
“Sometimes after mass someone will come up to me and say, ‘Father, I am back!’ This is very encouraging,” he said.
By applying for a passport so he can travel to Nigeria to visit family, Fr. Ambrose now recognizes the freedom he has gained as an American citizen.
“Instead of having visitor status, I can now say I am coming home when I return to the States,” he said. “If we are so excited about working toward an Earthly citizenship and are willing to fight to preserve it, how much more should we value our Heavenly citizenship that will last forever?”
Whether it is the pursuit of becoming a citizen of the United States or coming back to a place of faith, the intrinsic need to belong is something many Americans can understand.
3/25/10 – by Marci Seither, Colfax Record Correspondent