Two priests ministering in the Diocese are in their native India and unable to return to the United States due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 virus.
Father Jos Rajesh Peter, Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Solitude and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes in Palm Springs, and Father Joseph Christy Yesudass, Parochial Vicar at St. Catherine of Alexandria in Riverside, remain in the city of Bengaluru, India, which is experiencing a nationwide COVID-19 crisis that has led to strict lockdowns. In response, the United States has, for the moment, prohibited those attempting to enter the country with R1 Visas, non-immigrant visas for religious workers.
Both priests are members of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart religious order. They traveled back to India on Apr. 12 to visit with family and celebrate their 25th anniversaries of priesthood ordination. They were due to return to Southern California on May 12, but the U.S. travel ban took effect May 4. Each had received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine before departing for India.
“We tried our luck on May 12 when we were supposed to return,” Father Peter told the Press-Enterprise newspaper on May 22. “But we were turned away even though we tested negative for COVID-19 and are fully vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, the three parishes that are served by the two priests are praying for their return and living without the pastoral and sacramental work they have provided since being assigned there in 2019.
The priests could request an exemption to the travel restriction so that they can return but the COVID-19 lockdown has prevented them accessing the U.S. Consulate where that has to take place. The two priests held out hope that the travel ban might soon be lifted. They have remained in touch with their parish communities through technology.
“The other day, we were online with 18 couples for a marriage preparation course. We were also able to do some youth ministry virtually,” Fr. Yesudass told the Press-Enterprise on May 22. “The personal touch is still missing. But during this time, we try to do what we can.”