Three skilled carpenters are building the “holy chair” Pope Francis will use during his Mass at Madison Square Garden when he visits the United States next month — and all three men are immigrants.
Pope Francis has famously made immigrants rights a key part of his papacy, once tweeting “We pray for a heart which will embrace immigrants. God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy.”
So, naturally, when the Vatican sent instructions on the construction of a chair for his use — “Simple, simple, simple,” they wrote — the Archbishop of New York wanted to make a point about honoring immigrants and went to day laborers Fausto Hernandez, Hector Rojas, and Francisco SantaMaria, according to the New York Times:
Mr. Hernandez, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a member of Don Bosco Workers, a hiring center for day laborers in Port Chester. Mr. Rojas, who is from Mexico, and Mr. SantaMaria, from Nicaragua, are with Obreros Unidos, a day labor center in nearby Yonkers. They have spent the last few weeks working with Brother Sal Sammarco, of the Salesian order, who taught high school wood shop for many years, to build the papal chair.
The project has been a huge boost in attention for Don Bosco, whose executive director, Gonzalo Cruz, works out of an office so tiny it aspires to be a closet. Don Bosco has a campaign called “No Pay, No Way” to get local businesses to stop robbing its members. (The archdiocese is paying the men $20 an hour and covering expenses, including breakfast and lunch. Several women from local parishes, meanwhile, are sewing and embroidering the altar cloths for the Mass, donating their skilled labor.)
The pope’s Mass can’t help being a big deal. Billy Joel’s lighting designer, Steve Cohen, is handling the production; he had plans for the chair, altar and lectern drawn up by a production design company in California that creates sets for clients like Lollapalooza and Tom Petty.
But for all that, the chair is pretty basic, made of oak plywood and hardwood trim, with thin white cushions. On Monday afternoon the workers were getting their nearly completed, disassembled chair ready for a few coats of lacquer and, later, upholstering. They attached the back and the top, made of hardwood boards glued together and curved into an arch.
The Times writes the three men are getting a whirlwind of attention, with their names printed in a flood of local and Spanish-language media. But, perhaps, it doesn’t compare to one place their names have been printed:
Hidden on the underside of that elegant arch, above and behind where the papal head will be, are written the names Fausto, Hector and Francisco.