A Chair for Pope Francis

Publication Date: 
September 14, 2015

Saint John (“Don”) Bosco devoted his life to those on the margins of society, particularly the migrant workers and day laborers of Turin, Italy. These young, impoverished boys were seeking better opportunities and a brighter future in the city. Today, in a fitting tribute to Don Bosco’s legacy, members of the Don Bosco Workers’ Center in Port Chester, New York are crafting a meaningful gift for another humble servant of the poor.

That servant is Pope Francis. And the offering is a simple chair, built from oak, to commemorate his historic visit to New York.

“They could have called a big, prestigious company, but they called us instead,” says Héctor Rojas, one of the carpenters working on the project. “With great pleasure, we wanted to help them.” Mr. Rojas refers to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, who commissioned the chair. It will be used during the Pope’s celebration of Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25th.

Mr. Rojas, originally from Mexico, is ajornalero -- a day laborer who waits each morning on the street corners of New York, hoping to be hired for his carpentry skills. He joins Fausto Hernandez from the Dominican Republic, and Francisco Santa Maria from Nicaragua -- two otherjornaleros selected for the job. All three are being supervised by Salesian Brother Sal Sammarco, who has many years of experience teaching high school wood shop classes.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan specifically sought day laborers to craft the Pope’s chair in order to emphasize their important contributions to the local economy, as well as their vulnerability to exploitation and wage theft.

“When we meet people like these, we learn to love and respect,” says Cardinal Dolan. “They are a proud and hard-working people, who have amazing skills and who enrich our culture.”

It is precisely for this reason that the Don Bosco Workers’ Center, and other day-laborer centers around the city, exist. First established in 2006 on the property of Holy Rosary Church (run by the Salesians) in Port Chester, the Center aspires to match its nearly 200 members’ skills to employer needs. It also negotiates wage contracts on their behalf, and offers wage recovery services and advocacy for victims of pay theft and other exploitation.

Named in honor of the founding father of the Salesian order, and his legacy of providing education and opportunities for poor and immigrant youth, the Don Bosco Worker’s Center is a true grassroots, community-organizing group led by its own members. Their efforts to enhance the dignity of the worker, and to fully integrate them into the labor force and society as a whole, have improved the lives of more than 800 marginalized men and women since its founding.

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