Local priest gets sworn in as United States citizen

For Father Biju Chitteh, pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New England, and St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Lefor, June 26, 2015 will be a day he will never forget, the day he became a United States Citizen.

Father Biju
Father Biju

By RACHEL BOCK | The Herald

For Father Biju Chitteh, pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New England, and St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Lefor, June 26, 2015 will be a day he will never forget, the day he became a United States Citizen.

Father Biju was born and raised in Kerala, India, which is located in the southern part of India. He lived with his parents for the first two years of his life, until they moved and he stayed to be raised by his grandparents.

When he was in the sixth grade, he moved back with his parents, only staying a year because in the eighth grade he was already recruited to join the seminary.

After finishing his pre-degree in the seminary, Biju moved back home and attended college for two years. That is when he realized that he wanted to pursue the Catholic priesthood. He rejoined the seminary in a northern region of India where the Christian population is only 1.2 percent of the total population. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2001, and his first assignment was Associate Pastor in a Cathedral and secretary to the Bishop.

After one year he was moved to central India to Madhya Pradesh, in a town called Gwalior. Biju was made principal and in charge of building a Catholic school from the ground up. He hired three teachers from Kerala, and the construction of the school was done by a company from Germany.

St. John Vianney School started in 2002 as a Gwalior Diocesan School. The school is known for taking education to the slums and villages of Gwalior, and educating students up to Class XII. After getting the school up and running, Biju was then transferred to work at a bigger school with an enrollment of 2,500 students. He was there for two years when he realized that he wanted to get out of the education system and to do more pastoral work. He spoke with his Bishop and due to the predominantly Hindu and Muslim religions in the northern Indian region, pastoral work in the area is hard to come by. The Bishop told him if he wanted to further his pastoral work he would have to move back to south India, or other Catholic countries like the Philippines. Biju then wrote to a diocese in the Philippines, and was offered a vice principal position of a college.

Meanwhile, Father Biju wrote to a friend of his in Bismarck, Father Joseph, and asked if there were any pastoral openings in the Bismarck diocese. Joseph said that there weren’t any openings, but would keep him informed if anything opens up. Before moving to the Philippines, Biju attended a retreat where spent time soul searching, and praying for his up coming move. When he got back from his retreat two days later, he received a phone call at 1:30 a.m. Bishop Paul Zipfel from the Bismarck diocese explained had received his name from Father Joseph and was calling to offer him a job in the Dickinson area.

“I said, bishop I am not sure I am dreaming, let me go wash my face,” Biju said.

He then talked to his Bishop in India and was granted permission to come over to the United States in 2010.

“It was by chance, but design or plan of God that I am here,” Biju said.

For six months Biju became a pastor at St. Patrick’s Parish in Dickinson and was then transferred to St. Patricks Parish in Crosby.

In October 2012, Father Biju was again transferred to St. Mary’s in New England.

Biju was due to be back to India in 2015, however Bishop Kagan offered him the opportunity to stay permanently. He then contacted his bishop back in India and was given permission to stay in the United States, and continue his work for the Diocese of Bismarck. Biju was incardinated into the Diocese of Bismarck in October 2014.

Since he decided that his life and home will be in the United States, he wanted to become a citizen.

“The US has a well defined freedom; it has a lot of opportunities for the people those who really want to become a good citizen, or want to become something good in their life. The U.S. has got that kind of platform,” Biju said.

After five years of permanent residence in the United States, a person can apply and pay a fee of $685 to start the eight-month procedure to become a citizen. Biju needed to take a 100-question exam about the United States.

After the passing of the exam there is a waiting period of three months. On June 26, at the courthouse in Fargo, Biju took an oath in the name of God and signed a certificate to become a United States citizen.

Biju’s family back in India has been very supportive and feels that becoming a United States citizen is a “big achievement” says Biju. Since he is now a US citizen, his family can now be invited to visit, something that wasn’t done when he was here on a temporary status.

“It would be a dream of all the people in India at least to come to the United States; I never counted me as one of those who will win this race. A big grace from God, I feel I did nothing everything God did for me,” Biju said.

There will be an American Citizenship Celebration for Father Biju in hiss back yard on July 12 at 6:00 p.m. There will be a Pot Luck meal, with music and fireworks. All are invited.

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