During the Feb. 12 papal flight to Mexico, Pope Francis received an unprecedented gesture of affection from a Mexican journalist: a shoe shining, accompanied by a story from the journalist’s youth.

Noel Díaz was born in Tijuana, and had a difficult childhood. He later emigrated to the United States, where now he is a prosperous businessman and founded the Catholic radio-television station, “El Sembrador” in California. 

Now Noel is accompanying the papal trip to Mexico and yesterday — in his meeting with the pontiff on board the plane — told the Pope a story from his life, and offered to Pope Francis tools to clean shoes. 

Noel told the Pope that when he was only eight years old and was about to receive his First Communion, he heard that his mother — who was single — couldn’t buy him a suit for the ceremony. It was then that he decided to work in the streets as a shoeshiner. 

Pope Francis listened with attention. Noel then asked him permission to shine his shoes. The Pope accepted, and he knelt with brush and cloth to polish the Holy Father’s black shoes. 

In statements to CNA, Noel explained that in shining Pope Francis’ shoe, he wanted to recall “everyone who, with dignity and effort, works every day to bring food into their homes.” 

“Many times, one doesn’t realize the suffering of so many people who work in the streets as peddlers,” Noel said. “My mother was a peddler.”

Noel crossed the border with his mother as an illegal immigrant, and was deported twice. “After many years, we were legalized. I asked the Pope that he pray a lot for immigrants, that those who have gone many years without seeing their mother or father can see them,” he said. Noel’s mother died in 2010. 

As a Mexican, Noel has a lot of hope for this papal visit. “The Pope travels as a pilgrim of mercy and peace. I hope that his words reverberate with the Mexican people and that we Catholics engage more. The Pope does not come to resolve the problems but to come to be a voice that the people want to listen to,” he said. 

Noel asked the Pope what laity can do to help in his mission. The Pontiff asked them to “leave the caves” — to go out from their comfort zone into the peripheries.  

“It was a very nice experience. The Pope, undoubtedly was moved and I had the pleasure of having shined the shoes of the Pope,” Noel concluded.