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Chicagoans listen to Pope Francis at White House

Fight for $15 organizer among Chicago-area residents at White House pope event

Monsignor Mike Boland wishes Chicago was on the itinerary for Pope Francis' U.S. tour, but it wasn't.

So Boland and other Chicagoans journeyed to the Washington on Wednesday to greet the pope at a White House spectacle marked by trumpets, a gospel choir and the national anthems of the U.S. and the Holy See.

Boland, 58, president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was among 11,000 guests who listened as President Barack Obama started things off by saying: "What a beautiful day the Lord has made!"

In keeping with the 78-year-old pope's affinity for the poor, not all of those invited were high-echelon figures from the government and clergy. Several were working-class people from the Chicago area, among them a single mother from Cicero, a Mexico-born maintenance man from the West Lawn area and a day care operator from the Northwest Side.

"They call him the 'People's Pope,' because he cares for the people," said Adriana Alvarez, 23, the single mother. An employee of McDonald's and a national organizer in a campaign for a higher minimum wage, she said the White House reached out to her group, Fight for $15, leading to her invitation. "It was really special," she said.

Alvarez said the closest she got to the pope was as he was driven in, waving, aboard a gray Fiat. Otherwise she watched the White House ceremonies on a large video screen.

The maintenance man, Felipe Diosdado, 36, said he was so excited to be near the pope's Fiat that he botched his attempt at a video recording. Diosdado was especially touched when Pope Francis noted that he was the son of an immigrant family. Diosdado said he has to reapply for a work permit every year or risk being deported to Mexico.

"When the pope said he came from a family of immigrants, I felt a real connection with it," he said.

Calling the day a "two-for-one," he said: "I've never been to the White House before and I've never seen a pope before. I feel blessed."

Day care operator Maria del Carmen Macias, 52, said the pope's message was one she'd been waiting for. She singled out his "initiative to save the planet, to take care of the pollution and all of that stuff, and to take care of the most vulnerable, children and the elderly, and build a community of justice and love and compassion."

For the event, the White House sought out representatives of Catholic Charities and others "deeply engaged in service to one's neighbor, whether the neighbor is Catholic or not," said Melissa Rogers, who leads the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Boland said about 50 Catholic Charities officials from Chicago made were at Wednesday's event.

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich sent regrets for the pope's visit to Washington because of a family matter, according to archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Burritt.

Illinois lawmakers on hand included Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago and Republican Reps. Bob Dold of Kenilworth and Rodney Davis of Taylorville.

Miguel Diaz, who was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 2009 to 2012, also was there with his wife, Marian. Both teach at Loyola University Chicago.

He gave the pope an A grade for his speech, identifying his concern for the vulnerable and the need to protect Earth. "This pope," Diaz said, "comes as a prophet of mercy."

kskiba@tribpub.com

Twitter @KatherineSkiba

 An earlier version of this article misspelled Felipe Diosdado's surname.

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