A 90-year-old Spanish Jesuit priest, Father Federico Gussi Sopena, can finally call himself an Indian citizen after living in the country for over six decades.
“I am extremely happy. This is the kind of happiness that I have never experienced before. I am no longer a foreigner on this land,” Father Sopena, who has lived and worked in and around Mumbai for the past 68 years, said.
“This was my last wish and it is finally granted to me after 38 long years,” he added.
Father Sopena was handed the Certificate of Naturalisation, the final document proclaiming him to be an Indian citizen by Mumbai suburban district collector on Thursday.
“There is no other country like India where I have lived and worked for 67 years. And now I am very happy that my grave will be in India, that of an Indian. Bharat Mata ki jai!” a beaming Fr Sopena said.
Sopena had earlier completed all the formalities including a solemn oath for getting Indian citizenship at Collector’s office at Bandra last October.
Sopena was 22 when he came to India in 1949 to explore Indian culture and studied at University of Mumbai, earning a degree in classical languages.
“After earning my degree, I taught foreign languages like Greek and Latin to children in the city,” he said.
Sopena said he was required to know at least one Indian language to get the citizenship as per the rules. So, in 1986 he appeared for Hindi elementary examination.
“Some years back, I had to give an exam where they tested my knowledge of the Hindi language. I took the test in a school with so many 10-year-old kids. They were amused to see an old man like writing the exam with them,” Sopena said.
A Raigad-based social activist, Vaishali Patil, decided to help him to get an Indian citizenship as the priest was struggling with the paperwork.
“The government officials lost his application file. I helped Father Sopena to get copies of his documents and submitted them again,” Patil said.
“I have known Father Sopena for the past 25 years. He has worked extensively with tribal people in the Raigad area. I am elated the he is now a proud citizen of our country,” Patil added.
(With inputs from PTI)