Noel Díaz is over the moon. On Friday he’s traveling from the Vatican to Mexico with Pope Francis on a plane that left from Rome.
Diaz is the only Los Angeles resident traveling with the pope as he flies to Mexico, which begins Friday after a stop in Cuba, where Francis will meet with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Diaz, 59, is very aware of the privilege he’s garnered to travel with the pope, who will arrive in Mexico City on Friday night. “If I have the chance to share my words with him, I will ask him to champion the cause of migrants, not to forget them and the policies that separate hundreds and thousands of families and the enormous pain they suffer. It’s not just,” he said.
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Diaz knows about these issues firsthand. As a child, alongside his mother, he was deported on two occasions while living in California.
“My mother needed to support me, and the only thing she was doing was to work to give me a better future,” he recalled. “This is the same story for millions of families that are separated by deportations. These must be stopped, and I am hopeful that the pope can help us. I hope he can hear our call.”
To be accepted on the pope’s plane, Diaz sent a request through the Vatican’s Web page. He was able to include in his application his work as founder of the Catholic television network called El Sembrador, which means the sower. The station has viewers from Mexico to Argentina — more than 8 million a month.
“El Sembrador is a Catholic television chain, but it’s not like the religious chains that aggrandize their founders or presidents who get rich from programming. In my case, I have a job to make a living, but more important is our mission to transmit the church’s message to all corners of the continent,” Diaz said.
The network, known as ESNE for El Sembrador New Evangelization, is based in San Fernando and began transmitting to Latin America via satellite on Jan. 31, 2002, the day Pope John Paul II presided over the canonization of Juan Diego, the peasant who reported the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531. According to the network’s website, it is the only Catholic channel with a studio inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Diaz also would like to hear the pope speak against corruption, violence and drug trafficking.
“The pope said recently that he’s not here to solve problems but rather bring a message like a pilgrim, but even so, we’re hopeful that his messages help us find much-needed peace in Mexico,” he said.
In recent days Diaz had been thinking about what gift he could offer the pope. “I’m not going to give him anything materially valuable,” he said. “I’m going to give him a box used to shine shoes.”
This box has been a work tool for hundreds of thousands of children who work to survive.
“I myself shined shoes in Tijuana and the pesos I brought home helped my mother. The money from shoe shines even paid for my first Communion. For that reason, I want to give him this particular item. I’m sure he will very much appreciate it because he is a man who truly understands the poor,” Díaz said.