One minute they were Cubans and Tunisians and Ethiopians and Turks and Iranians and Bosnians and Haitians and Egyptians and Kenyans and Salvadoreans and Canadians. The next minute they were Americans. In a moving ceremony before Judge Paul Friedman at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 102 new Americans took the Oath of Citizenship yesterday. They came from 45 different nations. Their remarkably diverse cultures and heritages all converged at the intersection of hope and freedom: the American Dream. I was there at the invitation of my good friend Judge Freidman to make remarks to the new citizens.
Trinity Sophomore Reina Elizabeth Campos was one of the 102 new citizens at yesterday’s Naturalization Ceremony. You can see her photo here. What a great moment of pride for Trinity!
The young man in the photo above is from Cuba. He was so excited and proud in his moment of citizenship! I found myself wondering if all of us who had the good fortune of citizenship by birth in the United States might benefit from some distinctive moment like this to affirm and reflect on the true meaning of our citizenship. Native citizens take a lot for granted. Naturalized citizens have to study, reflect and then affirm their embrace of their role in the history and future of this nation, their rights and responsibilities within our Constitutional framework. The Oath of Citizenship is very explicit about expectations for all citizens.
This week I am reflecting on the meaning of citizenship in the United States and the relationships among our rights and responsibilities as citizens, and the implications of faith traditions — particularly Catholicism — in American life. The coincidence of last week’s transition of power in Washington, and this week’s Naturalization ceremony, have been a powerful context for me to think about the important values we cherish in this nation: the right to live as free people, the right to speak and express ourselves without reservation, the right to believe what we choose to believe without governmental imposition of one belief system.
As I heard the roll call of nations from which our new citizens immigrated, I could not help but think of the great contrast between our many freedoms here in the United States and the more restrictive societies in some of the places our new citizens once inhabited. In some places, the women who proudly raised their right hands to swear the oath would have been completly hidden behind burqas. In other places, the men swearing allegiance to a new government might have been tortured and murdered for dissenting from the prevailing regime. In this great country, these human beings can stand up and be counted without fear, with equal rights to be part of “We the People” who are the government of this nation.
Citizenship in the United States is a great privilege. But this nation requires active participation by all citizens in order to ensure the vitality and strength of our rights and liberties. In welcoming and congratulating our new citizens, let’s also take the opportunity to think about the ways in which we can and should be more active citizens — not only through voting, but also through robust engagement with the dialogues of freedom across the range of issues affecting our lives today. War and peace, poverty and wealth, education and ignorance, violence and security, the dignity of human life and the right to be free from discrimination, the right to speak freely and the obligation to act justly. Trinity’s whole purpose as an educational institution is to provoke these dialogues in order to teach the citizens of the earth about the ongoing construction of a humane, just and peaceful human society. For Trinity, this is a secular goal and a sacred mission.
For more information on citizenship process click here.