Homeless man given bishop’s resting place
Willy Herteller, 80, buried by Italian Mgr Americo Ciani in a Vatican cemetery to honour Pope Francis' wish to give priority to the poor
A homeless man has been buried in a Vatican cemetery usually reserved for aristocrats and bishops, in accordance with Pope Francis’ desire to make the poor a priority.
Known by Vatican personnel for spending his days approaching pilgrims around St Peter’s Basilica to tell them to go to Confession and to pray daily, Willy Herteller, who was Flemish, died in Rome on December 12 at the age of 80. He was buried in the Vatican’s small German cemetery, which is generally occupied by high ranking Church officials.
The first to notice Mr Herteller’s absence from the area around the basilica in mid-December was Italian Mgr Americo Ciani, who serves as a judge on the Roman Rota, a court of Canon law. After discovering Mr Herteller had died and was lying unclaimed at a local morgue, Mgr Ciani decided to give him a proper burial in the German cemetery, within the walls of the Vatican.
He used to say that receiving Communion was his medicine. He slept with other eight homeless people, trying to bring them closer to Jesus.
Vatican spokesman Fr Ciro Benedettini said that Vatican employees regarded Mr Herteller as a good man who attended Mass twice a day in the church of St Anna, known as the Papal chapel since it’s also inside Vatican grounds.
“He used to say that receiving Communion was his medicine,” Fr Benedettini said, adding that Church officials had tried to help the homeless man more than once, finding places where he could live and be tended to, but Mr Herteller would soon tire of it and go back to living on the street.
“He slept with other eight homeless people, trying to bring them closer to Jesus,” Benedettini added.
Fr Benedettini said that, contrary to reports, Pope was not involved in the decision to bury Mr Herteller at the Vatican, but would have approved.
Fr Bruno Silvestrini, the parish priest at the church of St Anna, told Vatican Radio that Mr Herteller had attended the 7am Mass for 25 years.
“He was very, very open and had made many friends,” he said. “He spoke a lot with young people, he spoke to them of the Lord, he spoke of the Pope, he would invite them to the celebration of the Eucharist. He was a rich person of great faith. Then we no longer saw him, and subsequently we heard about his death. I’ve never seen so many people knocking on my door to ask when the funeral was, how they could help to keep his memory alive.”