The year 2009 was a very big year for me. It was the year I came to the United States as a seminarian. This was in early April, which happened to be the Saturday of Holy Week. I had every intention of attending the Easter Vigil that night, but after a long flight I was exhausted and dozed off. Fr. Tom Long, the diocesan vocation director at the time, with whom I stayed, did not want to disturb my sleep because he knew how much I needed the rest. I was so excited to be in America. It was like a dream come true.
Growing up in Nigeria, I watched a lot of American movies and music videos. In high school, I was not very interested in sports. My interests were choral music and books, hence, I read a lot of American novels. I remember that, as a teenager, it was considered very cool to wear T-shirts and baseball caps with American sport teams or the names of American cities, such as New York, Chicago or Atlanta printed on them.
It was during college that I learned a bit more about American history and philosophy, especially since philosophy was my major. I marvel at America’s impact on the world stage and her global leadership, power and influence. America’s involvement in World War II, for example, changed the course of world history. The world continues to look up to the United States for leadership in research, science and information technology, as well as in many other fields of human endeavor.
Has the American scientific power and technological prowess always been a force for good? No. Has her foreign policies and history been utterly selfless and devoid of greed? Of course not. Every country, however, has aspects of its history that are somewhat shady. Great nations learn from their histories. They do not hide from them.
For as long as I can remember, America has always been that “shining city on the hill,” a place where dreams come true and a land where anyone willing to work hard can succeed and achieve the impossible. It is as the line from the national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, states, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Over the years of living in the United States, I have fallen in love with this country and its people. It has become home. Thus, it was a great privilege and honor for me to be sworn in last month in Milwaukee as a U.S. citizen.
The United States of America, which I love and am now privileged to call home, is filled with many qualities. One such virtue that distinguishes her and her citizens from other countries is this: generosity. I am constantly amazed and heartened by this. Wherever human suffering shows its ugly face, either in the form of natural or human-made disasters, the United States is oftentimes among the first nations to respond concretely with compassion. The milk of human kindness still flows in this land and in the hearts of many citizens of this country.
This nation thrives on the rule of law. In preparing for my citizenship exam, I had to study the meaning of the “rule of law.” Its simple definition gets to the heart of the matter: that everyone must follow the law. When people criticize elected officials in higher offices and do not get arrested, or when I hear about politicians or highly-placed government officials going to jail for breaking the law, I realize this is truly an exceptional nation. This, unfortunately, is not the case in many other countries, where it seems the law only applies to the poor, while the rich and well-connected get away with violent acts against their people.
This is a nation where people, both young and old, can freely express themselves. Put simply, freedom of expression lives loudly in this country and that is a glorious thing. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who serves as the archbishop of Boston, once mentioned that one of the remarkable things about America is that, when we talk about the issues that affect our country long enough, we tend to get them right. I hope and pray this culture of dialogue, debate and encounter may continue to flourish.
There is so much more about America that I love. It is difficult to put into words how thankful, grateful and blessed I am to live in this country and now be an American citizen. No matter how big or small the gesture, I humbly thank all who have helped me along my journey, especially Bishop David Ricken and Fr. Tom Long.
Fr. Alvan Amadi is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Algoma.