Written by Peter Sanchez
In 1974, on Oct. 29, to be exact, Rene Canales, the youngest of six children, is born in La Union, El Salvador.
1991— Canales departs his civil war-torn, unstable birthplace for the United States, desperate for a new life, and to be able to support his mother back home.
1998 — After seven years of hard work scraping together a living in America — picking vegetables in the blazing Florida sun, washing pots and pans in Atlantic City’s casinos — the young immigrant enters Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary on Sept. 2, a day after his final day at Trump Marina.
2006 — Canales is ordained a priest of the Diocese of Camden.
And now, another God-graced milestone in the life of Father Rene Canales: Feb. 21, 2019, the day he became a United States Citizen.
In front of his brother priests of Blackwood’s Our Lady of Hope Parish, parish staff and friends, Father Canales took the Pledge of Allegiance, hand over grateful heart.
“I’m grateful to God, to this great nation,” he said, adding that he was heartened by the support of his fellow faithful, who celebrated his achievement with him on the 21st, and again last Sunday at Our Lady of Hope.
“I’ve been embraced by a nation, that I’ve come to love.”
He wasn’t afraid to admit that there were tears.
“I cried, seeing the faces I know and recognize. Now, I am one of those faces.”
Father Canales ministers to Hispanic Catholics throughout Gloucester and Camden counties, and hopes his story, with its trials and successes that led to Feb. 21, will encourage his flock to persevere on their own path.
His citizenship “was a lot of hard work, and waiting,” he says, including the 100-question test he took, which he was “ready and prepared for. Do the work, and pray and trust in God.”
Above all, he hopes he can be “a voice to the voiceless,” to those who feel marginalized and hopeless.
“I am their shepherd, who understands their needs; they are not alone.”