Willy Herteleer, pilgrim.
Photo credit, Paul Badde
What editorial headlines tell you about the editor.
It's almost funny... giving the impression that Francis the talking mule and bungling fools are running the Church... Enemies of the Church would approve of such language.
But editorial headlines don't tell the whole story.
By now everyone has heard the story of Willy Herteleer the homeless man buried at the Vatican, in case you haven't - here is a brief summary:
(Vatican Radio) The Holy See press office has confirmed the news of the burial of a homeless man in the Teutonic College cemetery within Vatican City State. Willy was a homeless man of Flemish origin. His exact age was unknown but he was believed to have been around 80 years of age. He died on December 12 last year and was buried in the Teutonic Cemetery on January 9 this year.
Willy was a familiar face to many in the area of the Vatican. He attended daily Mass in Sant’Anna parish in the Vatican and spent his days and nights on the streets around St. Peter's Square, Borgo Pio and Via di Porta Angelica. The pastor of Sant’Anna in the Vatican, Father Bruno Silvestrini, had dedicated the Nativity Scene at Christmas to Willy, adding a homeless man among the shepherds. He loved to pray, he had a good heart, attended the morning Mass at St. Anna every day and always sat in the same place. Read more at Vatican Radio
Tomb of St. Benedict Joseph Labre
Many bloggers have since picked up on the story and so I wasn't going to post on the man until I saw the offending headline at Pewsitters. Mr. Herteleer wasn't a bum. He was a pilgrim, a homeless pilgrim. For centuries pilgrims have journeyed to Rome and for centuries some who did so remained - to pray in the heart of the Church. Naturally I first thought of St. Benedict Joseph Labre - who was a homeless pilgrim from France. He too lived among the other homeless people on the streets. Willy Herteleer chose to live among those who did not live in the shelters.
After morning Mass, he would stop for a while and speak with the people.
“When did you last go to confession?” he would ask everyone he met. “Are you going to communion? Do you go to Mass?”
He asked the same of other homeless people, those with whom he chose to live.
For a time he lived in a shelter. “Yes, it’s nice, welcoming and clean. Yes, you eat well and the people are nice,” he told people. “But I need freedom. I love freedom!”
He preferred his friends. He preferred the streets. He preferred the monsignor that brought him oranges, the journalist that took his photo.
After Mass, he would speak with his friend Msgr. Amerigo Ciani. “Thanks for your homily pronounced so calmly. I understand it well and it helps me to meditate throughout the day,” he said. - CNA
I find his story edifying and encouraging. After St. Benedict Joseph's death the Romans immediately hailed him as a saint. He was given a wonderful funeral and burial - and today his tomb, containing his relics are enshrined in a church.
I suspect Mr. Herteleer wouldn't object to being called a bum, a vagrant, a beggar - though it is said he didn't really ask for funds or food. I suspect he was very humble and aware of himself - that is - he had such humility that he knew himself completely - as Christ knew him. Jesus knows each of us deeply - he recognizes us - he recognizes himself in us.
It's a very great, wondrous mystery contained in such self knowledge. Great freedom - freedom of spirit. Willy said, "I love freedom - I need freedom!"
How entangled we make ourselves. It must be so obvious to people like Willy, observing those who pass by in the square ... each carrying about a facade of how we want to be perceived or what we want to become. Willy wouldn't have been there to judge of course, but rather to encourage others to go to Mass, to go especially to confession. They want to call him a 'street evangelizer' because they need to categorize him, to dignify him - just as those who wish to denigrate him as a bum - a good for nothing. We do that all of the time - to ourselves and to others.
We confine ourselves within social definitions of what we ought to be, or want to be, or think we should be. Some people can't do that. They can't live up to the expectations of others. Willy Herteleer demonstrates that it doesn't matter: Be what you are and let the holiness of God define your existence - allow him to love you.
“Although he was alone, he didn’t feel alone,” said Msgr. Ciani in the homily. “The presence of God was strong and alive within him. He prayed and prayed. He prayed for the conversion of everyone, even for strangers to repent.”
And, that’s how Willy’s story on earth finishes, with a tomb in the Vatican’s cemetery, surrounded by the affection of those who were close to him in life.
His was a life lived in the margins, but a life full of love. - CNA
Today I found added encouragement from the writings of Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus:
Why can't we love in a way that is both passionate yet very pure? Don't you think that that should be possible? I assure you the world needs love ... I am nothing but Jesus has given me a tiny spark of his love. We can't continue to let people suffer all around us and not go to them under the pretext that we have to protect ourselves, like a soldier who, in order to keep his uniform impeccably clean, avoids the mud of the trenches and the danger of bullet wounds. - Magdeleine of Jesus
Pope Francis or Willy Herteleer might have said the same exact thing.
"... For if you love those who love you, what compensation will you have? Don't the tax collectors and people you despise do the same? And if you greet your family and friends and those you esteem only, what's so special or unusual about that? The non-believers and dissenters do the same things ..."