Saturday, July 22, 2017


July 22, 2017
ROME, Standard Newswire

A baseball player may on the way to becoming the next saint.  The idea may sound like it is out of left field, but the pitch thrown to Pope Francis by filmmaker Richard Rossi may turn out to be an unlikely strike.

What about the requirement for a miracle to greenlight the canonization of baseball icon Roberto Clemente beyond beatification?  It may have been met today, as reported by Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press.  

Olympian Jaime Nieto was paralyzed from the neck down in a backflip accident three years after Rossi's controversial film "Baseball's Last Hero" was released.  Nieto starred in the lead role of Roberto Clemente.  His stellar acting in portraying Clemente's Christlike decision to give his life to save others caught the pontiff's attention, inspiring the Clemente canonization campaign.  Today in El Cajon, Ca., Nieto walked 130 steps at his own wedding to fellow Olympian Shevon Stoddart.  

Sources say the miracle was predicted in a letter Rossi sent Pope Francis. (Rossi wrote and directed the film).  He said Nieto's walking will be a "demonstration of the power of God."

"In meditation, it was revealed to me that Roberto Clemente was a saint," Rossi said in the letter to Pope Francis, sent a year ago.  "I saw a miracle healing of Jamie Nieto.  He will walk at his own wedding to show the grace of the sacrament of marriage.  Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding of Cana."

Pope Francis agreed if the miracle happened as Rossi predicted, the canonization of Roberto Clemente he would consider going forward, some church sources said.

Rossi visited Nieto after the accident and prayed for his healing. "You will come back and walk like the bionic man." Rossi said.

"I've never thought of him in terms of being a saint," said Mets second baseman Neil Walker, a devout Catholic whose father knew Clemente. "But he's somebody who lived his life serving others, really. So if it would happen, I wouldn't be terribly surprised by it." 

    (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong). Two-time Olympic jumper Jamie Nieto, center right, and his bride Shevon Stoddart, a   Jamaican hurdler, walks out of a church after their wedding ceremony Saturday, July 22, 2017, in El Cajon, Calif. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Roberto Clemente a saint? He's in the ballpark.


At my Catholic boys high school in Pittsburgh, every class began with a prayer. Although prayers were usually led by teachers, our freshman history teacher Mr. Wynn subcontracted the job to students. Eager to delay the actual lesson, we prolonged the prayers with some facetious embellishments. I remember a witty kid named Robert McNulty intoning: “St. Roberto of Clemente, pray for us.”
Roberto Clemente, of course, was the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates rightfielder who was to die on New Year’s Eve of 1972 when his plane delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua crashed into the sea.
Little did McNulty know! This week I received an email from Richard Rossi, a Pittsburgh native now living in Los Angeles who is leading a campaign to have Clemente canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. Rossi is the director of the film “Baseball’s Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories.” (21 was the number of Clemente’s jersey.)

According to a letter Rossi sent to Pope Francis and the archbishop of Clemente’s native Puerto Rico: “Roberto Clemente was not only the best rightfielder of all time in his 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but was also an imitator of Christ, dying to save others, on a mission of mercy to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. My film shows Clemente exemplified the Scripture, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ ”

The medieval-seeming miracle requirement long has been criticized, and occasionally has been the inspiration for comedy. On the old “Saturday Night Live,” Don Novello’s character Father Guido Sarducci (the supposed gossip columnist for the Vatican newspaper) memorably criticized the canonization of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American saint, because she had been responsible for so few miracles — and “two of them was card tricks.”
One Catholic commentator, the American Jesuit Thomas Reese, thinks it’s time to abandon the miracle requirement. According to Reese: “It is sufficient to look at a person’s life and ask, Did this person live the life of a Christian in a special or extraordinary way that can be held up for admiration and imitation by other Christians?”

 If that were the standard, Clemente’s humanitarian activities would be ample evidence of sainthood — and the Vatican wouldn’t even have to take account of his miraculous batting average.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


A new documentary is in the works to trace the journey of Roberto Clemente's canonization to sainthood for his humanitarian efforts, dying in a mission of mercy to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.  The cinema verite film starts from the catalyst of Richard Rossi's indie dramatic movie "Baseball's Last Hero" which introduced the idea and received a blessing from Pope Francis to start the process, all the way to the hoped-for final resolution of "Saint Roberto" and a ceremony in Rome.

Mr. Rossi met today with the director to be interviewed by the award-winning filmmaker behind the project, but would not give the director's name.  

"When he formally announces the film, I can share details, but I don't want to give publicity about the specifics until he is ready.  I was approached to be interviewed for the film, it's not my project, I'm not producing or directing it.  I'm impressed that he is doing a thorough and methodical job, and his subjects in addition to myself include notable baseball writers, theologians, and those both for and against Clemente's canonization.  His prior work was well-done and garnered well-deserved festival awards and critical acclaim."

Rossi's interviews for the feature documentary are expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Saint Roberto? There's a canonization movement for Clemente

Matt Snyder, CBS
Former pastor and Pittsburgh native Richard Rossi is leading the charge to have the late, great Roberto Clemente canonized as a saint and he's actually gotten support in starting the process from the Pope (Catholic News Wire, via CBS Pittsburgh). The next step is to begin the process of canonization through the archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Clemente was tragically killed on Dec. 31, 1972 while on a plane that was attempting to deliver relief goods to Nicaragua following a catastrophic earthquake. He was just 38 years old.

Posthumously, Clemente was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Major League Baseball now annually honors a player "who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement" with the Roberto Clemente Award.

Does all of this make him an actual saint, though? I guess we'll soon find out. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015


"Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories" is a low budget movie on the life of baseball icon Roberto Clemente. The film was a labor of love made by volunteers on a shoestring budget. Two-time Olympian Jamie Nieto plays the role of Clemente, and Bravo's Project Runway Winner Marilinda Rivera portrays his wife Vera Clemente.  The indie-film got a bigger blessing than Sundance, Variety, or the Hollywood Reporter when representatives of Pope Francis contacted director Richard Rossi about the film  Maria Ramirez obtained an exclusive interview with Rossi for Catholic News Wire to reflect on the film's impact, felt all the way to the Vatican.  
 CNW: When the letters arrived from Pope Francis, what was your reaction?

RR: I didn't know what it was at first.  It had an official seal on it, and I honestly didn't know what they were. Pope Francis letters to me were always sent through the Vatican emissary office called the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States in Washington, D.C.  My thought after reading the first letter was, "Wow, a letter from the Pope.  That doesn't happen every day."

CNW: You've shared some of the correspondence with the media, I've seen coverage on CBS News, in the LA Times, Washington Post, and various other media.  Other letters you've elected to keep private as instructed by the Church. Some of the late night comics have made jokes about the Pope canonizing Clemente because of your film and that you and Pope Francis are "out of left field," "off-base," and other baseball jokes.  What's been your latest thoughts to the effort to make Clemente a saint because of the film?

RR:  Well, we had to make the pitch right?  The baseball puns and groaners are endless.  My personal opinion is that Roberto Clemente is already a saint in the best definition of the word.  I think he is more worthy of that honor than many who the Catholic church have previously given it to.  He led a Christlike life in the sense that he cared and laid down his life for others, dying in a mission of mercy to earthquake victims.  By the grace of God, and the actions of his life, he is a saint to me already.  I'm not saying he's perfect, sinless, or anything like that.  He showed us how to live with concern for others, for disadvantaged children.  Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  The Catholic Church canonizing Clemente does not make him a saint at that moment in the future, they'll be affirming what he already was long before that.  I'll be thrilled if the canonization process we've had a small part in starting through the film comes to full recognition of what he did.

CNW: It was more than a small part, if I may say so. What is your own background relative to Catholicism and your views on the current Pope?

RR: I was born and raised Catholic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I grew up attending Pirates games and Clemente was my boyhood hero.  There's things I like about the Catholic Church and other things I don't. I like the history and the art. I was in Italy when my first feature film "Sister Aimee" was up for an award in Milan.  I toured the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and I think they are examples of the importance the Church has played relative to art history.  Although my evangelical friends are loathe to admit it, the Catholic Church was instrumental in collecting the writings to form the canon and put the Bible together. Some of my youthful experience was in the fundamentalist circles where they tend to not understand the Catholic Church's role in formulating orthodox doctrine through the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. I tried to explain that to them but they weren't too astute to understand that. The Catholic Church is an important part in my own journey and history. My wife and I've participated in a couples group called Marriage Encounter which is a ministry of the Catholic Church.  My wife and I enjoy Mass.  My spiritual journey has led me to explore many other churches and books, I've never limited my mind and growth to any one denomination.  I've spent as much time exploring other groups outside of Catholicism as I have inside it. There are not too many denominations or religious organizations I haven't exposed myself to.  My bottom line conclusion is it's an inside job.  

CNW: What do you mean by an inside job?

RR: Jesus said 'The kingdom of God is within you.'  What is in your heart?   Listen to the Holy Spirit, the still, small voice inside you.  It's not commandments written on stone, the law of God is written in your heart. When we give away our minds and power to an external religious leader to tell us what God is saying, we get into trouble. I've seen problems when people do that in Catholicism, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, fundamentalism, and all the other "Isms."

CNW: What don't you like about Catholicism?

RR: There's quite a bit of sexual pathology in both the Catholic and Protestant churches.  The molestation of children by priests, and the pedophilia in fundamentalism, one recent case in the news is the Duggars, seems to be prevalent in rigid religion.  Several religious leaders I knew in the fundamentalist Protestant world molested one of their kids, their own kids, and some other kids in the church.  I know people who are very close to me who were abused in such a way by religious leaders.  That's the worse thing about it.  Some of the old school nuns were abusive, I experienced abuse in Catholic school as a kid. But I also know nuns that are sweet, wonderful, prayerful supporters of me and the film.  I've had friends who are priests and bishops who are wonderful men.  I've enjoyed spiritual retreats with them. The nun who was the real life inspiration for the scene with Clemente was such a person. 

CNW: Is it true that the scene you're referring to in your film "Baseball's Last Hero" with the nun and Clemente, the one that got Vatican attention, was added later and wasn't in the original script?

RR: Yes, I wrote it one night at the apartment of some friends of ours, Paciano and Molly. They were hosting the Marriage Encounter group on a Friday night. My wife and I finished our sharing assignment and had a few quiet moments and the scene came to me.  I wrote it down.  Jamie Nieto who played Clemente and Laura Alexandra Ramos who played the nun did a fantastic job with a lot of dialogue on short notice.

CNW: Is it true that Archbishop Jose Gomez, of the Los Angeles Diocese contacted you to support your film and efforts?  If so, he is probably the most influential Latin American clergyman in America?

RR: He's very gracious and wrote to tell me he's sharing our film with Catholic Athlete's for Christ and he's supportive.  
CNW: What's your feeling about Pope Francis?

RR: I like him.  At least what I've seen.  I don't really know him obviously other than the correspondence.  I like how he is willing to identify with the oppressed and not be so married to the wealth of Rome.  As a Latin American, he has the ethnicity to appreciate Roberto Clemente's culture.  He's been criticized for reaching out to people the church loves to hate, like homosexuals, Muslims, the poor.  My understanding of Jesus is that He was criticized for being a friend of the fallen, a friend of sinners and outcasts.  The Pharisees accused Him of being a drunkard and a wine-bibber.  I like the Pope's recent statements that salvation is a free gift of grace, which reflects my views and what I read in the second chapter of Ephesians.

CNW: Where can we see the film?

RR: It's available now for rent or DVD purchase at Amazon, Pureflix, Truli, and IAMflix.  Just search for "Baseball's Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Roberto Clemente, the next saint?

Washington Post
Richard Rossi and Pirates catcher and Clemente friend Manny Sanguillen
Richard Rossi is on a crusade of sorts, traveling to cities across the country to collect stories about the fabled healing powers of baseball great Roberto Clemente.

His goal? Nothing short of making Clemente an officially recognized Catholic saint.

“He had a calling to be a great baseball player,” Rossi said, “but he had a calling beyond baseball.”

Clemente played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-1972. He reached 3,000 hits and won the National League MVP trophy in 1966.

On Dec. 31, 1972, Clemente boarded a flight in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to ferry relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Soon after takeoff, the plane crashed, killing Clemente and four others.

Rossi was only 9 years old when Clemente died but remembers going to Pirates games for $1 with his father. Since then, Rossi said he’s read almost everything written on Clemente and talked with many more people who knew him.

After talking to several people, including a nun, Rossi said, he learned the religious side to Clemente had been left out of most biographies. So, Rossi, a 51-year-old Catholic and independent filmmaker in Hollywood, made it one of the bigger parts in his movie, “Baseball’s Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories.”

Director Richard Rossi met two Clemente fans, Alonso & Oscar Garcia from
Nicaragua at San Francisco screening movie "Baseball's Last Hero."
Now, Rossi and a group of volunteers are listening to people’s stories about Clemente, and they’re using the scientific tools of X-rays and medical records to verify tales of Clemente’s miraculous healing touch.

Under normal circumstances, miracles are considered much later in the process, after the church has officially opened a sainthood cause. Catholic teaching says miracles attributed to a saint — two are needed for canonization, after his or her death — are evidence that the person has God’s ear in heaven.

“One reason the Catholic Church has lasted a couple of thousand years, it has this kind of process, they’re very slow and so we want to make sure we present something that, you know, has a lot of credible evidence,” Rossi said.

Rossi already has several supporters on his side, including Duane Rieder, executive director of the Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh.

Rieder said he has spent time talking to family, friends and nuns who knew Clemente; they say he predicted his own death through dreams of him dying in the ocean and his body not being found.
But Rieder said he feels that the most important part is not the way Clemente died, but the way he lived his life for others.

“He’s the only true baseball hero. He’s the only person, player that ever gave up his life helping other people. Everybody else, you know, Babe Ruth wasn’t a hero. He was a hell of a baseball player,” Rieder said. “Roberto Clemente was the only true baseball hero.”

Rossi is also looking for support from bishops, including Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan — and even Pope Francis.

“The purpose of my writing is to humbly ask your blessing my efforts to defend the beginning of the canonization of Puerto Rican athlete humanitarian Roberto Clemente,” the letter says.

As the archbishop of San Juan, Nieves would have to sign off on Clemente’s sainthood cause and move the process along to the Vatican. The Archdiocese of San Juan did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Rossi also hopes to meet with Pope Francis and show him his movie. “I think he is the perfect pope for this — No. 1, being Latin American. But No. 2, he thinks outside the box.”

Carmen Nanko-Fernandez, a Latina theologian at Chicago Theological Union, is writing a book about Clemente, “El Santo! Baseball and the Canonization of Roberto Clemente.” She said anything is possible with Pope Francis, but due to a canonization process that can stretch on for centuries, she isn’t so sure Clemente will make the cut.

"All evidence seems to point to that Clemente was a good guy who tried to lived his life well. So in that sense, you know, does he have a chance at being considered a saintly person? Sure,” she said. “Will that make him into the canonization process that makes him an officially recognized saint in the Catholic Church? I’m not so sure.”

But Nanko-Fernandez said Hispanic Catholics can continue to venerate and honor him, making him an unofficial saint.

“It’s not necessary for one to become an official saint to be considered a saint,” Nanko-Fernandez said.

For Rossi, Clemente is needed as a saint for “ordinary” people to look up to. Clemente lived his life for others and died in service to the poor, Rossi said, and what could be more saintly than that?

“When we look at the process of canonization, unfortunately, it’s very weighted towards celibate people that choose the vocations of being a priest or nun,” Rossi said. “I mean, there’s a very small percentage that walk it out in the real world as a family-first man, as a husband, as a father, in a secular culture, as a baseball star.”

Saturday, January 31, 2015


The formal case for the canonization of Roberto Clemente will soon be available in both English and Spanish and will address the Biblical and theological justifications, answer common objections and misconceptions, and discuss the miraculous  aspects of his saintly life.

The process of canonization is as follows:

Anyone who is a Christian, (not necessarily an exclusively Catholic Christian), can be named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Also, it only takes the Bishop of the candidates home diocese where he died (San Juan, P.R.) to submit a request to Rome for the Canonization process to begin.  In rare cases, if the home diocese is not diligent to begin the process it can be started by the Pope.  The complete process for the induction of a new Saint is as follows:  On September 12, 1997, through the Vatican Information Service, the Holy See Press Office in Vatican City made public the following note on canonical procedure for causes of beatification and canonization:

1. Canon norms regarding the procedure to be followed for causes of saints are contained in the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister, promulgated by John Paul II on January 25, 1983.

2. To begin a cause it is necessary for at least 5 years to have passed since the death of the candidate. This is to allow greater balance and objectivity in evaluating the case and to let the emotions of the moment dissipate.

3. The bishop of the diocese in which the person whose beatification is being requested died is responsible for beginning the investigation. The promoter asks the bishop for the opening of the investigation. The bishop, once the nulla osta (no impediment) of the Holy See is obtained, forms a diocesan tribunal for this purpose. Witnesses are called before the tribunal to recount concrete facts on the exercise of Christian virtues considered heroic, that is, the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, and others specific to his/her state in life. In addition, all documents regarding the candidate must be gathered. At this point he/she is entitled to the title of Servant of God.

4. Once the diocesan investigation is finished, the acts and documentation are passed on to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The public copy used for further work is put together here. The postulator, resident in Rome, follows the preparation of the summary of the documentation that proves the heroic exercise of virtue, under the direction of a relator of the Congregation. The Positio undergoes an examination (theological) by nine theologians who give their vote. If the majority of the theologians are in favor, the cause is passed on for examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation. They hold meetings twice a month. If their judgment is favorable, the prefect of the congregation presents the results of the entire course of the cause to the Holy Father, who gives his approval and authorizes the congregation to draft the relative decree. The public reading and promulgation of the decree follows.

5. For the beatification of a confessor a miracle attributed to the Servant of God, verified after his/her death, is necessary. The required miracle must be proven through the appropriate canonical investigation, following a procedure analogous to that for heroic virtues. This one too is concluded with the relative decree. Once the two decrees are promulgated (regarding the heroic virtues and the miracle) the Holy Father decides on beatification, which is the concession of public honor, limited to a particular sphere. With beatification the candidate receives the title of Blessed.

6. For canonization another miracle is needed, attributed to the intercession of the Blessed and having occurred after his/her beatification. The methods for ascertainment of the affirmed miracle are the same as those followed for beatification. Canonization is understood as the concession of public worship in the Universal Church. Pontifical infallibility is involved. With canonization, the Blessed acquires the title of Saint. 

This information is found in the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister, promulgated by John Paul II on January 25, 1983.  There is no actual rule against a non-Catholic becoming a saint, the issue is that the Bishop of the candidate would need to begin the process. And if, for example, a Presbyterian Bishop were to submit a candidate for Canonization to Rome, that would imply that even non-Catholic denominations of Christianity are subservient to the Most Holy Pontiff and the Holy See.