After a long journey that started in India, made detours to Europe, Africa and Asia – and had a few months of delay because of a technicality – Salim Joseph, OFM, says his dream finally came true. He’s a U.S. citizen!
Timing is everything – three words that became more than just a saying for Salim, who was unaware that his application for U.S. citizenship was filed too early – just short of the four-and-a-half-month residency requirement before the naturalization process could be initiated. Although he had to wait a little longer, “the dream,” came true last month – when on April 25, in a ceremony at historic Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, with a group of HNP friars in attendance to support and applaud his achievement, Salim took the Oath of Allegiance and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
“It was a very special moment for me,” said Salim, who is stationed in ministry at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. “My mother and six siblings have been well-settled in Florida and Texas, so I am happy to now join them as an American citizen. It was also special because eight of my brother friars were able to be with me at the ceremony.”
The celebration continued that evening at the friary on Arch Street, where the recreation room was festively adorned with American flags and other red-white-and-blue-themed decorations for the dinner party the friars hosted in his honor. The fraternity enjoyed a smorgasbord of traditional American fare – burgers, hot dogs, french fries, corn-on-the-cob, baked beans, watermelon, and a congratulatory cake with whipped cream frosting. But the high point came when the fraternity serenaded Salim with the National Anthem.
“The entire celebration was wonderful. But when they sang the National Anthem, it was a beautiful fraternal gesture. It gave me a sense of belonging, of being an American, and of being part of this Franciscan fraternity,” said Salim.
“America is a land of immigrants; its origins are rooted in immigration. I was attracted to the unity in diversity that America offers. The United States is very much like India, where there are many states, all with their own distinctions, but all united under one nation,” continued Salim, whose dream of citizenship and inspiration to read about the civil rights movement, American history, and the U.S. Constitution was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Salim admits that adjusting to life in America hasn’t always been easy. “Even though I had many visits with my family, initially it was very difficult adapting to the new culture, new way of living, and new experiences – and even the way ministry is done here. Since I lived in many different parts of the world, my family life has always been the friar fraternity I was living with,” he explained.
He said that everyone has been very supportive – the congregations at the parishes where he has been assigned, and the friars, especially Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, and Frank Sevola, OFM, guardian of the St. Anthony Friary.
The journey to U.S. citizenship – and to Holy Name Province – has been a long one with many twists and turns for this native of India. When his mother and siblings migrated to America to seek opportunity and make a better life for their families, Salim migrated to the United Kingdom to pursue academic studies. His father remained in India.
Salim was always fascinated with the life of St. Francis, in particular, that he was a rich man who renounced everything for the sake of Jesus. In his second year of studies, Salim decided to embrace the Franciscan way of life.
“I was enjoying all the freedoms, money, and social life, but I realized I wasn’t on the right track. I discovered that the Franciscans were aligned with the poor and marginalized. It was their ministry to the poor and the friar fraternity that attracted me to Franciscan life,” Salim explained.
He entered the postulancy program in 1982 with the Franciscan Province of St. Thomas the Apostle in Andhra Pradesh, India. Three years later, he professed his simple vows, and in 1991 he made his profession of solemn vows. While in formation, he obtained bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and theology. He was ordained to the priesthood on April 4, 1994 at St. Augustine Church, his childhood parish in Karimkunnam, a village in Idukki District in the Indian State of Kerala. The funeral Mass for his father, who died right after his ordination, was the first funeral he presided over as a priest.
His early ministries in India included assignments as a technical school director, friary guardian, and parish pastor. He then moved to Tripoli, Libya, where he served in multiple roles that included chaplain for an Indian community, secretary to the bishop, and guardian for an international Franciscan community. He enjoyed his missionary work in Africa, caring for and providing pastoral care to poor migrants. When the Libyan government was overthrown, he returned to India to serve in parish ministry. But his experience with international communities resulted in an assignment to serve as director of a commission for the diocese of Singapore.
He spent many summer vacations visiting his family in the United States. During one visit, his eldest brother filed his name with the Department of Homeland Security to obtain a green card. He was summoned to the U.S. Embassy in Bombay, India, for an interview, and in November 2017 was issued a green card.
While living with the Franciscan friars in the Singapore custody, he had the opportunity to meet Michael Perry, OFM, who, at the time, was the Order’s minister general. Salim had expressed his desire to work in the United States, so Michael recommended that he meet with his provincial to seek permission to apply to Holy Name Province. He interviewed with HNP in June 2018 and the following month was assigned to parish ministry at Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, Florida, close to where some of his family members were living. In 2021, he moved to Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, North Carolina, and in June 2022 to his current assignment at the Shrine, where he is serving in spiritual direction and sacramental ministry.
Salim was able to achieve his dream of American citizenship by turning the disappointment of the timing snafu into determination.
“It was patience, perseverance and hard work – and the courage to leave everything behind to start a new life in a new country. I was not going to let a technicality discourage me,” said Salim. “This Indian became an American. I am happy to join with all Americans and I am proud to be part of this history, especially this Naturalization process that is one of the greatest demonstrations of freedom in the United States.”
He added, “People hear my accent and ask where I am from. I used to say, India. Now when I answer, I say I am from America. Can’t you tell by my accent!”