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Chicago area activists proud to greet pope at White House

"There are no words that I can use besides feeling blessed and joyful," Maricarmen Macias, who lives in Belmont Cragin, says Wednesday, referring to the “great privilege” of seeing the pope in person. | Provided photo

After joining the crowd that greeted Pope Francis on Wednesday morning, Maricarmen Macias — a child-care provider from Belmont-Cragin — left the White House lawn feeling “enlightened’ and “recharged.”

Macias, 52, is a member of the Service Employees International Union, and she has been fighting against child-care cuts for four years.

Macias was selected last week to be among the 15,000 to greet the papal leader during his six-day trip to America as he pushes for climate change, income equality and improving the plight of immigrants and migrants.

“There are no words that I can use besides feeling blessed and joyful,” Macias said, referring to the “great privilege” of seeing the pope in person.

“I am a family child-care provider in Chicago, and right now we are fighting a real fight against the governor because of the cuts he has done to the state,” Macias said. “What I was hoping to hear from the pope is a message of hope. And what he said this morning was exactly what I wanted to hear.”

Macias said she was touched by the pope’s message to “start a culture of love with justice.”

“I felt very enlightened. I feel recharged to go back to Chicago and spread the message to my fellow child-care workers in Illinois,” Macias said.

SEIU members, including Maricarmen Macias (second from left in front row), gather in the Senate office building on Wednesday to deliver a statement to lawmakers about immigration reform and the fight to raise the minimum wage. | Photo courtesy SEIU photo

Macias said she was able to deliver a statement to some of the senators’ staffers along with managers from the Fight for 15 campaign to raise the minimum wage and those representing immigration reform.

Adriana Alvarez stood in President Obama’s “backyard” — the South Lawn — for about three hours Wednesday before Pope Francis arrived.

The Cicero woman is a national leader in the Fight for 15 campaign to raise the minimum wage.

About 9 a.m., she knew Pope Francis was on his way: “Soldiers and U.S. Marines starting coming outside. The marching bands started to play, and the president came out, and then Pope Francis came out in a tiny Fiat. He was waving to the people, and he just looked so warm and happy,” said Alvarez, 23.

She said she was caught off-guard when Francis got out of the Fiat. She viewed it as a sign of humility.

Adriana Alvarez in a “selfie” taken outside the White House. | Photo from Twitter

“It was really exciting even to see him on the Jumbotron. He’s always so happy to see people, always smiling. He just seems so genuine and brings so much joy to people,” Alvarez said. “He even seemed to want to speak more to the people than go through all the formal motions he had to go through.”

Alvarez tweeted about her experience and even took a selfie with the White House in the background.

She said she was pleased with Francis’ address to the crowd, in which he said he was ready to listen to the “hopes and dreams of the American people.”

She said she hopes that the pope told Obama of the struggles of minimum-wage workers. Alvarez works full time at a McDonald’s in Cicero, where she averages between 30 and 37 hours a week. She said she’s struggling to pay bills – including day care for her 3-year-old son.

“I love the message that he gave, and McDonald’s and all the big corporations should listen to what he has to say. Because he’s right, and there are a lot of people who agree with him. He’s pointing out that there are issues that can be fixed. He’s got it down,” Alvarez said.

Francis will speak to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday morning and will leave for New York City later that day. He will travel to Philadelphia on Saturday and spend the better part of two days there before leaving Sunday night to return to Rome. It is his first visit to the United States.