“We were immigrants from Mexico, my wife and I, but we both worked hard and became citizens of this country. And I’m very grateful for what this country has given me. They’re given me a chance to have a family, my son and daughter were born here. We felt blessed that we had jobs and were able to provide for our family. And we extended our hands to other people so that they could do the same. We were making it.
“But you never know when something’s going to happen. But I never thought it was going to happen to me. And it did happen.”
What happened to José Luis Nuno, 49, was a life-changing work-related injury. While lifting a 250-pound bathtub with another laborer at a home supply mega-store, he severely injured his back in 2011. With crushed and dislocated discs, he couldn’t work and had to go on disability. His on-the-job injury dragged on for weeks, then months. And when he finally was well enough to return, but at a less physically demanding job, the chain store he had worked at for almost 15 years didn’t hire him back.
After that, things just compounded.
“It was my accident, it was the loss of the job,” the soft-spoken man explained recently at a picnic table outside St. Margaret’s Center in Lennox, the Catholic Charities of Los Angeles multi-purpose site where he volunteers today. “I mean, there was no work. And it was hard for me to provide for my family. And then the separation and divorce filing. So altogether, it was really hard to bear. There were just too many things at one time.”
Nuno had hit bottom, financially and emotionally. He and his wife and their two children had volunteered at St. Margaret’s annual Christmas party at Hollywood Park Racetrack for years. Now staff members were encouraging him to get help at the center.
“When our time was good, we bought a house in Lennox,” he reported. “But I never considered myself ‘middle class,’ just working class like everyone else. After the accident, we tried to get by with our savings and everything. I never thought that I’m going to be asking for help.
“For the past 14 years my family and I, we used to work for this community. And it never crossed our mind, especially my mind, that one day I’m going to be needing St. Margaret’s. But the people here told me, ‘Luis, you used to help us. Now let us help you in ways that we can.’”
Pope Francis and President Obama
In his Jan. 28 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama stressed that during his time left in office he would work towards helping working class and middle-income families benefit, too, in the nation’s economic recovery. He promised to reduce the growing gap between America’s rich and poor because of job losses and stagnant wages.
“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better, but average wages have barely budged,” he told the joint session of Congress.
“Inequality has deepened,” he continued. “The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
The president said he would sign an executive order that raises the wages of employees with companies doing business with the federal government from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. He urged Congress to extend unemployment benefits for people out of work more than 26 weeks. And he proposed a new savings account called MyRA so workers could “build a nest egg.”
Father Larry Synder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said he approved of these measures and other efforts mentioned by President Obama, including universal pre-kindergarten education and job training.
But he pointed out, “We also feel an urgency to place a priority on addressing more effective methods for reducing poverty for the more than 46 million Americans living in poverty today.”
To no one’s surprise, Pope Francis — who is scheduled to meet with President Obama on March 27 — has chosen as his first Lenten message to focus on poverty as well as generosity. The theme, “He became poor, so that his poverty might become rich,” is taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (8:9).
The pope --- Time Magazine’s Person of the Year and the newest cover subject of Rolling Stone --- has steadfastly and passionately urged solidarity with the poor, the marginalized and the migrant. In an early public talk after being made Bishop of Rome, he mused, “Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and a church for the poor.”
In explaining to international diplomats last March why he chose the name Francis — after the 13th century saint known for leaving his rich merchant family for a life of stark poverty and service to the poor — the pope had a ready reply: “How many poor people there still are in the world. And what great suffering they have to endure.”
The pontiff has spoken about the “globalization of indifference” concerning the poor. He has chided world leaders, declaring, “Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”
‘It’s going to be okay’
For José Luis Nuno, his cry was heard by the staff at St. Margaret’s Center in Lennox.
“They not only helped me with groceries,” he said. “I was lucky because they also helped me with the counseling to get through my accident and job loss and marriage separation. There were just too many things at one time. The sessions have helped me to focus on my priorities to move ahead. And they’re still helping me. I feel much better and more confident, more secure.”
The immigrant from Mexico, who studied three-and-a-half years at the University of Guadalajara, has a part-time job as a “sub” driver for the Lennox School District. He also works for a contractor who owns a neighborhood store. And when he’s not working, he volunteers at St. Margaret’s in the office and food pantry or picks up donations.
“We have to keep going after things happen,” said Nuno with a smile. “We have to do better. We have to show strength to the rest of my family, which is my daughter and my son now. We can still be a family without being together sometimes. I’m sure it’s going to be okay.”