Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.,
The Christophers’ Board of Directors
In late January of this year, Papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski offered a funeral Mass for Roberto Mantovani, a 64-year-old man who died of pneumonia in a homeless shelter near Rome’s Termini railway station. Years ago, an injury had ended Mantovani’s career as a professional soccer player for Hellas Verona F.C., and in recent years, he had been living on the streets near the Vatican, where he was befriended by numerous people who tried to help him. Some of those people held distinguished positions, such as Cardinal Krajewski, who said of Mantovani, “He was a cheerful, sunny person, at the lunches we had he made everyone laugh.”
Cardinal Krajewski concelebrated the funeral Mass with Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, along with a dozen other priests. The Mass was attended by volunteers from the homeless shelter where Mantovani was staying, police officers from the station near where he often slept, and workers from the Community of Sant’ Egidio, who distribute food to Rome’s homeless and run the Vatican’s newest homeless shelter.
Sant’ Egidio reports that since November their organization has been aware of and helped to organize at least 10 funerals for Rome’s homeless, but they speculate the number of dead to be even higher. Citing RomaToday, Catholic News Agency states that in Rome “there are an estimated 8,000 homeless people. Many sleep in tents along the edge of Bernini’s colonnade, the semi-circular columns enclosing St. Peter’s Square.”
The day before Mantovani’s funeral, Pope Francis mourned the death of a 46-year-old Nigerian homeless man named Edwin, who was found dead from living outside in the cold. The Pope said, “His story was added to that of many other homeless people who recently died in Rome in the same dramatic circumstances,” adding, “Let us think of how this man, 46 years old, felt in the cold, ignored by all, abandoned, even by us. Let us pray for him.”
It is fitting for Pope Francis to challenge the world to see the humanity in the poorest of the poor. It is that self-critical outlook that inspires volunteers and programs within the Church to meet those on the margins of society and extend a helping hand. In Roberto Mantovani’s case, those who knew and cared for him had recently convinced him to move to the homeless shelter after numerous bouts with pneumonia, but sadly it was too late to save his life. According to Catholic News Agency, Cardinal Krajewski “chose the reading from the Gospel of Luke in which Christ recounts the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, for the funeral Mass because ‘Robert always slept in front of a closed door.’”
What a beautiful gesture this choice of reading was by Cardinal Krajewski because it points to the welcome we can all hope Roberto receives in the afterlife. In life, Roberto was known to sleep in front of a closed door. May he stand before an open door now and may he follow Christ through that door to eternal glory. This is the transformation that awaits every soul that returns to God with a humble heart, to find an open door and healing for the wounds that could not heal in this world. May we all find the humility to pass through that door with the humility of a beggar, and may we prepare ourselves for that moment by answering God’s call in this life to serve those most in need.
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