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Catholic Voice
October 26, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
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Young Catholic adults take their
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Bianca, Mico, Bernice and Marco Villa-Real got good news at the workshop: They qualify for U.S. citizenship.

Hundreds aided at citizenship event at Cathedral of Christ the Light

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The Villa-Real Family of Dublin — all seven members — got some very good news at the free Citizenship Application Workshop Oct. 17 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.

Four of the children who were seeking U.S. citizenship learned that they qualify already.

"I can vote," said Bianca Villa-Real, a community college student, with a big smile.

Her sister Bernice, in her third year at San Diego State University, had come home for the weekend specifically for the event. Citizenship gives her the opportunity to seek a scholarship from the armed forces that will enable her to attend medical school. It also will provide her with a U.S. passport so she can study abroad and be an intern in a medical clinic.

"It made me one step closer to my dream," she said.

Their brother, Marco, 18, is a community college student who would like to transfer to a university with an ROTC program.

But there had been a problem. "The first question the military asks is, 'Are you a U.S. citizen?' said his father, JoJo Villa-Real.

His son, he said, had asked him, "Dad, what am I?"

JoJo Villa-Real, the son of an American mother and a Filipino father, had been born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. at the age of 39. He's a U.S. citizen.

His wife, Eloisa, is applying for citizenship. Daughter Bea's immigration work had been taken care of before.

The Villa-Reals were not the only people getting good news at the event, the first of its kind at the cathedral, sponsored by the Diocese of Oakland, Catholic Charities and the East Bay Naturalization Collaborative, of which CCEB is a member.

With 200 volunteers seated at tables offering assistance with paperwork, and runners wearing crepe paper sashes to improve their visibility, to escort the clients from station to station, the clients moved through the various steps, including consultations as needed with volunteer attorneys. In signing up for the event, volunteers noted the languages they can speak: More than a dozen languages were represented.

A popular station was the stop where low-income people could apply for a fee waiver — $680 is the cost to file the paperwork with the U.S. government.

Among those volunteers were more than 30 deacons and their wives who had attended a workshop to learn how to assist those seeking help. "We just decided, now is the time to be involved," said Deacon John Kortuem, who attended with his wife, Linda. Deacon Martin Leach of Transfiguration Parish in Castro Valley had put up fliers in the parish for the event — "and they were all gone."

"You are very welcome here," Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, greeted the line of about 40 people who waited patiently for the opening. He also greeted and thanked the volunteers who would assist them.

First in line for assistance with her citizenship application was Cecilia Oliveris, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist Parish in San Lorenzo. She gestured that yes, the canvas bag she was carrying contained the documents she would need to support her application. She said she was "thankful for the help."

Pedro Alvarado and Maria Garcia, parishioners at St. Cornelius Parish in Richmond, have lived in the United States for 30 and 25 years, respectively. The opportunity to get help with the last steps to citizenship was welcome. "It helps people who cannot pay," he said.

Olivia Lantin-Anzures, a citizen for three decades, accompanied family members on their way to citizenship. They are parishioners at St. Anne Parish in Union City.

More than 120 people registered for the event, with a matching number of walk-in clients in the first hours. More people were expected at a 2 p.m. workshop for those eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

"This is just a taste of what I hope will become a permanent part of our cathedral ministry," Bishop Barber said. He said there are plans for a free legal clinic to provide assistance on issues such as immigration and employment issues.

The cathedral, he said, can take care of people's spiritual needs, and help them with their day-to-day issues. The citizenship event at the cathedral provided that visible sign.

"When people see it's being held here, we're doing what Jesus did," the bishop said. "He treats people as children of God. That's our primary relationship with each other."

"People trust the church," he said. "If this is being held at a Catholic Church, they know they're not going to be taken advantage of."

"I'm excited," the bishop said. "This is what we're supposed to be doing."

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