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Immigrant New Yorkers count their blessings ahead of Pope Francis meeting - New York Daily News

Saturday, September 19, 2015, 5:00 PM

Pope Francis, whose grandparents emigrated from Italy to Argentina, has often urged his followers to embrace immigrants and treat them with dignity.

So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that during his whirlwind 36 hours in New York, the Pope has set aside time to give a special, intimate blessing to immigrants and refugees.

Many of the 150-odd foreign-born New Yorkers — including three excited carwash workers from the Bronx and Queens — who are set to meet the humble Pontiff are pinching themselves.

“I feel very proud, and happy. I have goosebumps just thinking about it,” said Jose Reynaldo Sanchez, 49, a self-described “carwashero” who emigrated from El Salvador and works in the Bronx. He dries cars and is a shop steward with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The union was invited to send three members by Catholic Charities’ leader Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, who is coordinating the Pope’s visit with area immigrants during the Pontiff’s Friday stop at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem.

“I think this is the most important visit Pope Francis is making in the U.S. Congress, they don’t get anything done. The U.N.? These are the workers ... That he’s chosen to be with them strikes me as really, really good,” said Sullivan.

Many of the others who were invited — including a group of Central American teens who crossed the Mexican border on their own — volunteer with or get help from the social service organization, which is run by the Archdiocese of New York. Some are donating their time and talent to make Francis’ stop in the city special. A group of immigrant women are embroidering cloths to cover the altar during the Pontiff’s Madison Square Garden Mass, and a Westchester day laborers group crafted the chair, altar and lectern the Pope plans to use.

Sullivan said that his group has supported the carwash workers — and he personally has met with and prayed with them — as part of Catholic Charities’ “strong conviction to encourage collective bargaining and the dignity of work.”

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said that members involved in the carwash campaign reached a “consensus” about which leaders should participate.

“I think the invitation to meet with the Pope is a message to all people in this country that every worker, regardless of what they do or where they came from, is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.

“I think that Pope Francis has become an extraordinary moral leader on economic injustice for all people in this world, regardless of their particular faith. He inspires me, he inspires the carwash workers and he inspires working people across the globe,” added Appelbaum, who is Jewish.

Pope Francis balances a basketball.Pope Francis delivers a speech during a welcome ceremony at Colombo airport, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Jan. 13, 2015. Pope Francis will visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines from Jan. 12 to Jan 19.Pope Francis' skull-cap flies due to a blow of wind as he listens to the national anthem flanked by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (R) during a welcome ceremony at Colombo airport, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Jan. 13, 2015. Pope Francis will visPope Francis and wind gusts.VIEW GALLERY
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Refugio Denicia is waiting until the day of the visit arrives to tell his family that he is one of the few in the city to get to meet the Pope.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” said Denicia, who emigrated from Mexico to Queens 12 years ago and does detail work at Five Star carwash in Elmhurst, one of nine New York carwashes with a RWDSU contract.

Denicia said he believes that the Pope — who has said migrants in Europe are “on a journey of hope” and that “the Gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned” — can make a difference in how Americans view the issue of immigration.

“I think he can help move immigration reform forward, to keep families together,” said Denicia, 36.

Fellow carwash worker Patricio Santiago said he has met Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito through his work organizing for better carwash working conditions — but never thought his campaigning could lead to an audience with a global figure like Pope Francis.

“Now I have the fortune to be with the Pope in person. Because of how have I worked I will have this great opportunity,” said Santiago, who does detail work at Jomar Car Wash in Flushing and is a union shop steward. “I know that the Pope will be very gracious with us, his sheep, his children.”

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