How CLINIC helped me focus on what is important: A conversation with Father Pepe

Madison Allman

Growing up in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Fr. Jose Ruiz, known as Pepe, never realized how complicated getting a U.S. visa could be.

“I always had a visa,” he said, reflecting on the ease of entering the United States to go shopping or on vacation. “I was blissfully unaware of the many hurdles involved in getting a visa.”

His proximity and exposure to the United States also helped him realize his calling. He joined the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, in the United States, recognizing “how much need there was for Spanish-speaking priests.”  As he went through formation, he made the change from an F-1 student visa to an R-1 religious worker visa with the guidance of his CLINIC attorney and staff. He recalls how the Jesuits’ confidence and trust in CLINIC allowed him to focus his energy on formation and discernment.

For the first two years of his novitiate, Fr. Pepe drove with priests around Alabama and Louisiana. His ability to speak Spanish helped him relate to a larger audience and allowed him to serve communities that might otherwise not have access to religious resources.

“The Latino community’s desire and thirst for ministry in their own language has always moved me to greater generosity,” he said. “In fact, almost everywhere I’ve been in the United States during my formation someone will find out that I speak Spanish and send me many requests for help — often more than I am able to support.” People felt safer and more comfortable opening up about difficult situations in their mother tongue. Fr. Pepe said that breaking down linguistic and cultural barriers gets you to “the substance of a person’s religious life and allows you to connect in a way that provides them with sustenance for their faith.”

For Fr. Pepe, being a religious worker in the United States allowed him to fulfill his calling and fill a need within the broader Latino community. “It is a great gift to be able to listen to people in a way that makes them feel understood.”

After spending time in Italy and Spain to complete a master’s degree, Fr. Pepe applied for naturalization in December 2018. His oath ceremony took place the following June, coinciding with his fourth anniversary as a priest — it was a “wonderful coincidence, since being a U.S. citizen supports my ministry in the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province now and will do so in the future.”

Reflecting on his immigration journey, Fr. Pepe said: “now that I am a U.S. citizen, in the midst of everything that is going on in the country around immigration, I am even more convinced the people at CLINIC do have superpowers.”

Currently a pastor at the Buen Pastor Parish in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Fr. Pepe is enjoying the freedom of movement citizenship provides while thinking about commencing Tertianship and his second 30-day silent retreat. “Honestly,” he said, “I’m also excited about being able to participate in future elections and being a part of U.S. American society more fully.”

To learn more about CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Services, visit our webpage.

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An immigration judge and new citizen holding an American flag in an immigration courtroom.
Father Pepe stands with the immigration judge who presided over his naturalization ceremony.