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Alexandria Catholic finally becomes a citizen after pandemic delays ceremony

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Marthe Tarishi was so excited to become a citizen. After eight years in the United States, the 76-year-old Congolese woman had submitted all the paperwork and passed the citizenship interview and test. But then the pandemic hit, and the official ceremony had to be postponed. After months of waiting, Tarishi, a parishioner of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria, became a U.S. citizen July 23.


For most of her life, Tarishi lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the largest countries in the world. Growing up, she was educated by Belgian nuns and as an adult, she served as a catechist at her parish. Her faith in God helped her withstand many of life’s great difficulties. More than 40 years ago, her husband died of malaria. Two of her children died from disease, two died in war, and two had to flee the country. Tarishi does not know where they are or if they are alive.


Changes in governmental leadership and the resulting conflicts made life in Congo difficult, said Tarishi, who spoke primarily in French through a translator. “Everything is very complicated. To get food, to get water, everything is blocked,” she said. “The president is a dictator.” Even if someone finishes school, there are no jobs, she said. That’s why her son came to the United States in the mid 1990s. Tarishi followed in 2012.


The hardest thing about being in the United States was the language barrier, especially not being able to understand the Mass, said Tarishi. “At first I was ashamed because I couldn’t speak the language, but people would approach me and speak to me and teach me,” she said. “I found a lot of love — a lot of people love me here.”


Nowadays Tarishi enjoys spending time with her son and grandchildren and visiting the Catholic Charities St. Martin de Porres Senior Center in Alexandria, where she can meet new people and participate in activities such as exercise and English language classes.


Over time, her love for her adopted country, and her desire to vote, motivated her to become a citizen. “People respect the law here, not like in my country where you go out on a walk and people steal your bag. There’s a lot of liberty,” said Tarishi. When she found out she was finally going to be a citizen, she was, “very, very happy. I love America.”


Maraist can be reached at zoey.maraist@catholicherald.com or Twitter @zoeymaraistACH.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020