LEWISTON — The Pledge of Allegiance and patriotic songs took on special meanings as 52 immigrants became United States citizens Friday at the Lewiston Middle School.

They represented 23 countries, including Argentina, Bosnia, Brazil, England, China, Poland, Russia and Somalia. Nearly half of the 52 live in the Lewiston area, officials said.

The naturalization ceremony, conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was the first in Lewiston, Field Office Director Sally Blauvelt said.

“There are so many immigrants from Lewiston who come through our office, it’s only fair we should have a ceremony in their community,” Blauvelt said. She’d like to hold a naturalization ceremony in Lewiston every year, she said.

Immigration Services Officer Kurt Pelletier congratulated the candidates. “Each of you have been found a person of good moral character,” he said. “The investigation of the government has been completed in your cases, and each of you has been found to meet all the requirements of the law to be naturalized.”

As Blauvelt began administering the oath, candidates stood and raised their right hands. After they were sworn in, their first act as citizens was the Pledge of Allegiance.

That was followed by a big-screen video of President Obama welcoming them. They’ve traveled long paths to become citizens, have sworn a solemn oath, and now their freedom holds responsibilities, he said. Obama asked they use their talents to contribute to the good of the country and the world.

Keynote speaker Scott Knapp, Central Maine Community College president, said 2012 has been a good year for him. He became a grandfather “and I got invited to do this. If you think you’re excited, we’re all excited, too.”

As they were sworn in, “an incredible burden fell on your shoulders.” Many people died protecting the United States, Knapp said. Now it’s their responsibility to preserve and protect the Constitution and country “so you can pass it on to others.”

Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald called Friday a new beginning for them as citizens. He hoped they would long remember the day, “and share the news of your citizenship with pride and a realization that you are indeed now home.”

Each was called up to receive their citizenship certificate and shake hands with dignitaries. “Congratulations to our newest citizens. Welcome to the United States,” Pelletier said to loud applause.

Dorian Vincent, 48, of Greene, is one of the new citizens. Born in England, he met his wife one summer in Virginia. They moved to her home state. He works as an accountant in Lewiston and is the father of five.

“I’ve always wanted to become a citizen. One of the things I hated is I can’t vote,” Vincent said. He’s lived and worked in the country for 23 years, busy working and raising a family. He finally took the time to make his chosen country official.

“It’s one of the best days of my life, up there with having my children,” Vincent said. He added it was “awesome” having the ceremony in Lewiston.

Asha Mohamud, 18, a Bates College student, said her citizenship “means a lot. I’m very excited to be an American, finally.”

Born in Kenya, Mohamud is the first in her family to gain citizenship. As an immigrant she said she was in “no man’s land. I finally have a place I can call home now.”

Bishara Alkher, 35, from Chad shared that feeling. “Everybody who is an immigrant in the United States waits for this day,” he said. “It’s a wonderful day.”

Proud of their certificates, Somali natives Habibo Sheik, 20, and her neighbor Mohamed Omar, 53, both of Lewiston, were all smiles.

“I’m very happy. I have citizenship,” Omar said holding an American flag. “Today’s a beautiful day.”

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Oath of Allegiance taken by 52 immigrants who became United States citizens Friday during a Flag Day naturalization ceremony. (Flag Day was June 14.)

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely, renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom, or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion: so help me God.”

The oath was administered by Sally Blauvelt, United States Citizen and Immigration Services Field Office director. The Androscoggin Chorale sang the national anthem and “This Land is My Land.”

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