Sep 8, 2017
Pope Francis has arrived in Colombia for an unprecedented four-day trip. The press is highlighting the peace accord between the country's president Manuel Santos and leftist guerrillas, but for most Colombians who will attend the Pope's gatherings and Masses, this visit is simply about "El Papa" and his tender care for their souls.
Colombians are hardworking people of faith who are too often seen through the lens of the country's civil strife and drug wars. That the Pope would visit their beautiful country produces great joy and engenders pride and patriotism. This visit is a great moment for the country, but the true importance of the visit is its significance in the personal lives of Colombians.
I lived in Colombia for almost thirteen years, deep in the coffee-growing region of the country. Despite a shortage of laborers to pick the world's most prized coffee beans, a "good" coffee picker can only make around $20 a day. The pickers work a twelve-hour day in the blistering heat, tormented by snakes and biting insects. The appealing image of Juan Valdez, with his donkey and wide hat, belies the sweaty, grim reality.
This reality extends beyond the coffee fields, as the meager wage earned by a coffee picker is typical. The country's minimum wage is about $250 a month. A common sight at the grocery store is a customer using her day's wages to buy the family's food for the following day: a couple pieces of chicken, a half-pound bag of rice, a potato, and a sprig of cilantro.