Social workers have asked the union government to honour 91-year-old Father Federico Gussi Sopena, a Spaniard, who got his Indian citizenship last year after spending more than 65 years in the country. The priest is in a critical condition and undergoing treatment at Holy Spirit Hospital in Andheri.
Vaishali Patil, a Raigad-based social activist, who had help the priest acquire citizenship, sent a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office urging the government to honour him with the ‘Vayoshreshtha Samman’ which is given to distinguished senior citizens and institutions for their social work. The award is presented by the President of India.
“The award is for senior citizens of or above 90 years working for the society. Last year, he was not qualified for it as he was not an Indian citizen. Now that he is one, he could be considered for the same in the Centenarian category of the award,” said Vaishali Patil.
Father Sopena was handed the Certificate of Naturalisation, the final document declaring him to be an Indian citizen by Mumbai suburban district collector in April 2016. “As per his wish, he has been taken out of the Intensive Care Unit and all the support systems has been removed as well,” said Patil. “Father Sopena’s last wish was to die as an Indian citizen has a history of long struggle for 34 years… Father Sopena is very serious and unfortunately, may not survive for a long period,” read the petition filed by Patil on January 16.
The petition further read, “It will be great if this award is not only declared but also given urgently to him before he rests in peace.”
Sopena, who is from the Jesuit order of Catholic priests, has lived in and around Mumbai for last 68 years. He had come to India in 1949 as a 22-year-old to explore Indian culture and studied at University of Mumbai, earning a degree in classical languages. He was also required to know at least one Indian language to get the citizenship as per the rules. Accordingly, in 1986, he appeared for Hindi elementary examination.