December 1, 2021 | Local News

Fr. Julio Barrera after he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Oct. 21, 2021. COURTESY OF FR. JULIO BARRERA

Reaffirming their commitment to the local Church

Fr. Barrera, Fr. Valomchalil, become U.S. citizens


Following many years of preparation, two priests of the Diocese of Owensboro recently became U.S. citizens.

Fr. Julio Barrera, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Beaver Dam and Holy Trinity Parish in Morgantown, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Oct. 21, 2021. Fr. Augusty Valomchalil, pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Sorgho, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Nov. 9, 2021.

Fr. Augusty Valomchalil with parishioners David Cecil and Rose Marie Cecil after Fr. Valomchalil was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Nov. 9, 2021. David Cecil is the parish council chair of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Sorgho, where Fr. Valomchalil is the pastor. COURTESY OF FR. AUGUSTY VALOMCHALIL

Both were sworn in at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Louisville Field Office on Fourth Street in Louisville.

Fr. Barrera is originally from Mexico, and retained his Mexican citizenship so that he could be a dual U.S./Mexico citizen.

He told The Western Kentucky Catholic that he began the process of obtaining permanent residency in 2007, while a seminarian for the Diocese of Owensboro. It started with his student visa, which was a permit to be in the U.S. legally, and required him to return to Mexico every few years to renew it at the U.S. embassy in Mexico.

After Fr. Barrera was ordained on June 1, 2013, he could apply for permanent residency in the United States.

“My ordination date was considered my date of hire (with the diocese),” said Fr. Barrera. The process of applying for permanent residency took two years; he received it in 2015.

Five years after that, Fr. Barrera was then eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. That process took over a year, but finally the end was in sight.

Fr. Barrera underwent the required physical exam, had his fingerprints taken and studied 100 questions for the citizenship test.

On Oct. 21, he went to Louisville for his 10:30 Oath of Allegiance ceremony. He said there were 40 people from 25 different countries being sworn in with him.

“It made me realize the great blessing – which brings a great responsibility,” Fr. Barrera told the WKC. “This is a great opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to serve the Church! It is solidified with my citizenship.”

Fr. Valomchalil’s journey to U.S. citizenship was different but no less complex.

He started his application for naturalization in August 2018. Since he was already a priest serving in the Diocese of Owensboro, his process was a lot faster.

India does not have the same arrangement that Mexico and Canada have with the United States – permitting nationals of those countries to have dual citizenship with their home nation and the U.S. – so Fr. Valomchalil had to relinquish his Indian citizenship.

“I had mixed feelings because I cannot have dual citizenship,” he told the WKC, explaining that it was bittersweet for his sisters and parents back in India as well. “I was a little sad, but also joyful.”

Fr. Valomchalil was originally sent as a missionary to the United States in September 2010, by the religious order he belonged to at the time. (He was incardinated in the Diocese of Owensboro in 2019.)

Fr. Julio Barrera with his friend Fr. Brandon Williams after Fr. Barrera was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Oct. 21, 2021. COURTESY OF FR. JULIO BARRERA

Over the years he has appreciated the opportunity to serve the Owensboro diocese, which like many dioceses and archdioceses is experiencing a shortage of new vocations to the priesthood – resulting in many priests pastoring multiple parishes at once.

Now, as a U.S. citizen, western Kentucky is his permanent home.

Fr. Valomchalil was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Nov. 9, 2021 – technically at the 1:30 p.m. ceremony, though he said there was a delay which moved it closer to 2 p.m. There were 20 people from 25 countries at his ceremony.

Fr. Valomchalil’s parishioners David Cecil and Rose Marie Cecil accompanied him to his naturalization appointment. And after morning Mass the following day, the people of St. Mary Magdalene threw a surprise party for their pastor with donuts and coffee in the parish hall.

“It was really nice how people were excited; it made me feel good to see the happiness of the parishioners,” he said.

Fr. Barrera invited “the entire diocese, especially those places with international priests, to support their priests. For many of us, English is not our first language” – and he said many still have an accent – “despite our efforts to the best of our abilities.” 

“Check on us, see how we’re doing,” he advised. “There is an ongoing struggle because of being far from our families; please continue supporting us.”

Fr. Barrera explained that international priests retain “strong ties with our families and our countries of origin. It can seem at times our hearts are divided, but doing ministry as priests is what gives meaning to our lives.”  

Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.


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