PT priest ordered to leave country

Posted 11/27/19

Parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Port Townsend got an abrupt taste of U.S. immigration policy last weekend, when their only priest announced his religious visa has expired and he must leave the United States immediately.

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PT priest ordered to leave country

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Parishioners at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Port Townsend got an abrupt taste of U.S. immigration policy last weekend, when their only priest announced his religious visa has expired and he must leave the United States immediately.

“After (Nov. 24) mass...A letter was read from the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle informing us that this was Father Peter’s last Sunday. You could have heard a pin drop,” said Garth McHattie, a longtime member of the church.

Father Peter Adoko-Enchill read aloud the letter informing him his religious visa had run out with no extension or grace period and that he will leave the country this Friday, Nov. 30, McHattie said.

“There are a lot of people that are upset. A lot of people were crying,” McHattie said. “(There were) a lot of negative comments against the immigration authorities.”

U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services spokesperson Sharon Rummery said that agency does not comment on individuals’ applications for visas. Efforts to obtain comment from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement were unsuccessful.

Adoko-Enchill, 65, was born in Ghana, graduated from St. Peter’s Regional Seminary there and was ordained in 1986. After serving in Ghana as a vicar, girls school chaplain and pastor, he accepted a post in the U.S. in 2014, serving as pastor at St. Mary’s in Aberdeen.

Meanwhile, McHattie said, the Archdiocese of Seattle has been helping him apply for a visa that would permit him to apply for permanent residency and, eventually, naturalization.

Efforts to reach the spokesperson at the Archdiocese of Seattle were unsuccessful.

In order not to jeopardize his green card application, Adoko-Enchill must be out of the United States by the deadline, McHattie said. “If he overstays (the Dec. 1 expiration on his current permission) he can be deported and he would not be able to get back in.”

“They have been working on getting his visa approved for 10 months. They have had no response from Immigration, period, in that time,” said McHattie, who is a U.S. Justice Department-accredited representative to help people with immigration paperwork.

“He supports us,” parishioner Natalia Guevara said of the nearly 200 church members who attend the Spanish-language service he conducts at Star of the Sea. “Everybody was crying,” she said. “He was open to let us share with him our lives, not just like a priest, but like a friend.”

Adoko-Enchill speaks the formal language of Spain, but got through to parishioners who speak Central American forms of Spanish, she said.

The immigrant families of the parish felt his immigration struggle helped him to empathize with some of the struggles they have been through. “Everything has changed because he has to go back to Ghana. We don’t know if we’ll have a priest,” she said. “He helped us to grow and to change and helped us in our lives.”

She’s a 14-year member of the congregation and worries the church will not find a priest to replace him.

A worldwide shortage of priests has made men like Adoko-Enchill vital to the operations of U.S. parishes.

From 1970 to 2018, the number of Catholics worldwide more than doubled, while the number of priests fell, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a service that supplies data on the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. priests has fallen, from 59,000 to 37,000 and the number of parishes without a resident priest or pastor shot up from 571 in 1970 to 3,363.

According to the website of St. Mary Star of the Sea, Father Adoko-Enchill’s service at St. Mary’s in Aberdeen included service to Our Lady of Good Help in Hoquiam, St. Jerome’s in Ocean Shores, St. Paul’s in Westport, Our Lady of the Olympics in Amanda Park and, for the majority of his time, St. Anne’s in Forks.

The letter regarding his status was read at all three services, McHattie said: the 5:30 p.m. Saturday mass, the 8:30 a.m. Sunday mass in Spanish and the Sunday 11 a.m. mass.

“You could see that he was almost in tears,” McHattie said. “The Spanish population adore him. They have supported him in almost everything he wants to do (and) as they gave him a vestment (decorated with) Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is gorgeous.”

The Mexico City shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most-visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. Port Townsend Catholics conduct a march in honor of her each year.

McHattie said the Port Townsend priest’s case may be caught in a general backlog of cases in Washington.

“Late last spring, the wait for people in the state of Washington for naturalization was about 2.5 years,” he said. Now, with Washington cases split between offices in Portland, Seattle and Yakima, delays are growing, he said.

“They have been making decisions like this all along to delay, delay, delay,” he said. “The Congress of the United States needs to get involved and thoroughly review the immigration process right now and then come up with a plan that will meet the needs of this country.”

Efforts to obtain comment on the priest’s case from Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-WA were unsuccessful.

Staff at the Port Townsend parish referred questions to the Archdiocese of Seattle and said Father Adoko-Enchill would be unable to comment.

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