A worker at the federal courthouse in Medford gives a flag to Fr. Maro Escano during his naturalization ceremony Oct. 16. The priest, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in Ashland, said his parishioners inspired him with their good citizenship. (Courtesy Fr. Maro Escano)
A worker at the federal courthouse in Medford gives a flag to Fr. Maro Escano during his naturalization ceremony Oct. 16. The priest, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in Ashland, said his parishioners inspired him with their good citizenship. (Courtesy Fr. Maro Escano)
ASHLAND — Father Maro Escano, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish here, became a U.S. citizen Oct. 16.

A native of Quezon City, Philippines, the 45-year-old priest has served in the country for more than 13 years and said he can be more effective in his ministry as a citizen.

“I can participate more in society and be able to relate more with what the people are going through,” Father Escano said. “I can exercise the right to vote and have a voice and a share — no matter how small — in shaping the society or in moving the nation to a direction that the faith teaches to be right and true.”

He arrived in the United States on July 4, 2006. Father Kelly Vandehey, then vocations director for the Archdiocese of Portland, jokingly told the new seminarian that the whole nation was welcoming him with fireworks.

Having already studied theology in his homeland, he began advanced studies at Mount Angel Seminary.

Previously, when he had emailed Father Vandehey to inquire about the possibility of moving from his religious community to formation for the archdiocese, he did not know the diocese was in the United States. He thought he was applying to a diocese in Canada.

When he received the application packet including forms for Mount Angel Seminary, it was only then that he realized that it was for Portland, a name that was familiar to him only because of the Trail Blazers. Professional basketball is popular in the Philippines.

U.S. culture had a big presence in the Philippines in all ways when he was growing up. The islands have U.S. military bases, and English is the common language.

So it was not too much of a shock when he arrived in Oregon.

“I was just happy to continue my studies in theology and be a future priest in the archdiocese,” Father Escano said.

He was surprised, however, seeing homeless people begging in the streets.

“I had always imagined all the people from the U.S. as wealthy people — I know it is from my ignorance as a person coming from a very poor country,” he said. “Watching American TV shows and movies where everything is clean and beautiful, it was a surprise to see poor and homeless people.”

He has high hopes for his new country. At a recent parish ministry day, he listened to Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith discuss doing ministry in a culture where God is being rejected.

“It is a great challenge to hold and live out the Christian values in an environment where it seems that the majority of the people find it unacceptable to have faith and are doing whatever they can to push God out of society,” Father Escano said. “My hope is for there to once again be openness to Christian values and God’s grace, and for the people to be true to the nation’s motto – ‘In God We Trust.’”

He is alarmed at the parallels between contemporary U.S. culture and the culture of Ancient Rome, in which there were multiple gods and “everything was relative.” For Father Escano, truth is absolute and there is only one God.

“There are those of us who continue to be hopeful and I think as long as we Christians are here, there will always be hope,” he said. “It is my prayer that those who profess the faith will continue to do so and be — as Bishop Smith said — ‘witnesses of hope.’”

Father Escano is inspired by his parishioners, including the way they live as citizens, especially those who have served in the military.