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October 8, 2015

EDITORIAL: Francis Spoke to Me, Just as Romero Did

Like many low-wage U.S. Capitol workers who are organizing for living wages and the union, I am inspired to keep fighting for justice after Pope Francis’s speech to Congress.

I am a contract janitor who cleans tables and empties garbage cans for U.S. senators. Despite 8 years of service, I only make $11.35 an hour without any benefits. As a 67-year-old grandfather, I struggle to survive day-by-day on such low pay in America.

In the Pope’s address, he encouraged us to walk in the footsteps of prophets of justice like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King. But Francis himself reminds me of another prophet I once met.

In El Salvador, my home country, I was active in the trade union movement. We were organizing workers to demand a better life because the few lived like royalty at the expense of the many who lived in squalor.

It was a dangerous time to be involved in the union movement in El Salvador. During the civil war, armed death squads targeted activists for raising our voices against the wealthy and the powerful. Many I knew personally were murdered, and I was frightened for my life and the lives of my loved ones. I often thought of just giving-up and going into hiding.

But amid the violent attacks, I vividly remember hearing a calm and clear voice telling me and others to “Be not afraid.”

This was the message Archbishop Oscar Romero delivered in a meeting with me and other union activists in my home town of San Francisco Gotera. He urged us to continue waging our non-violent struggle – even in the face of repression – because our cause was just in the eyes of God.

Romero told us that those who cause our poverty are offending Jesus because He came to bring “good news” to the poor. He also said that the Church taught that a living wage and the freedom to organize was essential to affirming our dignity as human beings.

The truth is America is not much different than El Salvador for those who labor. The workers who serve the wealthy and powerful earn so little that we go homeless and hungry, both here and there.

That’s why I have joined with other impoverished federal contract workers at the U.S. Capitol to strike for a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

Like Archbishop Romero, the Pope brought good news for the poor. He told us that we should “not be afraid” to stand-up against poverty and inequality. He affirmed our right to earn a living wage and to organize a union because we deserve dignity as human beings.

I only hope that the message of Pope Francis, like the one “San Romero” inspired me with so many years ago, touches the hearts of those in Congress who have the power to act now to help me and others who are suffering in their midst.

Editor's note: Archbishop Romero was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador. No one has ever been prosecuted for the killing.

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