Roberto Molinari was a cheerful man from Verona, a big fan of the Italian soccer team AS Roma, and was used to sharing a meal with one the cardinals closest to Pope Francis.
He passed away Dec. 10 at the age of 64. His funeral was celebrated by two cardinals and an archbishop on Monday, and had it not been for restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even more Vatican officials would have turned up.
Speaking with Crux, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski defined Molinari as a “cheerful man, a favorite of many.”
Together with Australian Cardinal George Pell and British Archbishop Arthur Roche, Krajewski celebrated the funeral Mass for Molinari in the Church of St. Pius X, in Rome.
Pell was once the Vatican’s finance minister, Krajewski is the papal almoner in charge of handling the pope’s charitable work in Rome, and Roche is the secretary of the Vatican’s liturgical congregation.
But Molinari was no VIP, at least, not in the commonly accepted definition of a “very important person.” He passed away in Binario 95, a church-run shelter for homeless people where he lived during most of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had suffered several cases of pneumonia over the years – common for the homeless – and his friends wanted to make sure he had a warm bed at night.
For several years now, during the worst days of winter, it had been these Vatican officials who had helped pay for him to stay in a room at a nearby B&B: They had seen him often, as he used to make a bed for himself with discarded cardboard boxes a few steps away from one of the gates leading to the Vatican, on the same street as a Vatican-owned apartment building.
Molinari was known for his “contagious smile,” despite the many challenges he faced.
Krajewski – who last week helped 50 homeless men and women from Rome to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the Vatican – chose a passage from the Gospel of Luke for the funeral, which tells the story of Lazarus, a homeless man who sits by the door of an unnamed rich man, who is welcomed into Heaven by Abraham when he dies. The rich man enters Hell.
“In the parable, Abraham represents God’s thinking,” said Krajewski in his homily. “The rich man represents the dominant ideology of the time. Lazarus represents the silent screaming of the poor in the times of Jesus, and in our time.”
But the rich man refuses to be helped by the poor man, “keeping the door closed to him,” said the cardinal, and the same thing happens today.
In the parable, the poor man dies before the rich one, and with him, said Krajewski, the one opportunity for salvation for the wealthy man. The rich man “knew the Bible by memory,” had the words of the prophets and that of Moses, but “he never thought that the Bible had anything to do with the poor.”
“The key thing the rich man has to be able to understand about the Bible was the poor man sitting by his door,” said the cardinal, who continued his homily by saying that Jesus, risen, comes “in the person of the poor, in that of those who have no rights, who have no land, who have no food, who have no home, who have no health.”
God introduces himself through the poor,” to help us fill the enormous abyss created by the rich,” Krajewski said.
At the beginning of the Mass, a eulogy was read for “Robertino” – as Molinari was known for his friends – explaining that he once had a promising soccer career, but a tragic event had forced him to give up the sport.
“It comforts us to know that he didn’t die in the streets, as unfortunately has been the case for many other friends in these past months, because of cold and indifference,” the remembrance shared by another homeless person said.
“May our friendship with Roberto always encourage us to find answers for those who knock on our doors and ask for help, so that no one is left behind and alone in this, our city,” the eulogy continued.
Among those many who have died from the cold in the past months on the streets of Rome is Edwin, a 46-year-old Nigerian man who passed away a few meters from St. Peter’s Square. On Sunday, after the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis asked people to pray for Edwin.
“This incident is added to that of so many other homeless people who have recently died in Rome in the same tragic circumstances,” the pope said on Sunday. “Let us be admonished by what was said by Saint Gregory the Great, who before the death of a mendicant due to the cold, stated that that day Mass would not be celebrated because it was like Good Friday.”
“Let us think of Edwin. Let us think of what this man – 46 years old – felt, in the cold, ignored by everyone, abandoned, even by us,” Francis said. “Let us pray for him.”
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