by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
EASTON — Happiness. That’s the word Father Francis Bakyor, pastor of St. Joseph- St. Lawrence Parish here, used to describe the feeling of knowing he’ll be celebrating the Fourth of July as a U.S. citizen.
“It is a time of joy to celebrate with people on the American Independence Day,” said Father Bakyor. “I look forward to that.”
The native of Ghana officially became a U.S. citizen June 4 after months of paperwork, background checks and interviews.
When Father Bakyor first came to the country in 2008, he had just celebrated 25 years of priesthood in his home country.
“My bishop was offering me this opportunity to leave the country and have a bit of experience and come back,” Father Bakyor explained. “So, he arranged for me to go the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”
From there, he spent several years serving at different parishes around the country and returning to Ghana in between. It was only recently that he started thinking about becoming a U.S. citizen.
“The time of my green card was expiring,” Father Bakyor said. “They told me it was possible [to become a citizen], so I thought, ‘Why not try?’”
With the help of the human resources office of the archdiocese, Father Bakyor was able to gather all the information needed to start the process. First came fingerprints for a background check.
“With [fingerprints], they are able to go through background checks and see if you have any criminal background,” he explained.
Next came the interview.
“The interview [includes] questions about life in America here,” Father Bakyor said. “Since you want to become a citizen, you kind of need to know something about the country.”
“There is a small booklet of 100 questions, and they ask you 10 questions. If you make six, you go through,” he continued. “We had a wonderful interview.”
Upon passing the interview, the swearing-in ceremony was scheduled.
“It actually went very fast,” said Father Bakyor. “I just came in, went through it all and I got it.
“I feel so happy, just so happy to belong to this great country,” he added.
He said he’s not taking it for granted, either.
“A lot of people want to be what I am now but will never have the opportunity,” he said. “People will be here for 20 years, 30 years, struggling to be citizens of this country.”
Father Bakyor’s parishioners at St. Joseph-St. Lawrence said they are happy that he was able to become a U.S. citizen.
“That’s quite an accomplishment to be able to do that,” said parishioner Connie Wistuba.
Parishioner Don Navinsky said he appreciated Father Bakyor’s efforts.
“May God bless him for the years he has spent as a priest of the archdiocese,” Navinsky said. “We are very fortunate to have a priest that is willing to leave his home and serve the people here in the U.S.”
Father Bakyor said service was the reason he became a priest in the first place. “I was inspired by some missionary priests in my diocese, and they just gave me the opportunity to become a priest as a service to the people,” said Father Bakyor. “I’ve enjoyed that for all these  years.”