Perhaps a tweet crossed your timeline in the past few weeks, alerting you that Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was on his way to becoming a saint after being officially “blessed” by Pope Francis.
That’s “not true,” Vatican officials told The Post on Thursday. While they couldn’t confirm whether anyone has petitioned Pope Francis for sainthood on Clemente’s behalf, both the Vatican and Thomas Rosica, CSB, who works as an English-language press attache for the Vatican in Canada, denied the Puerto Rican native has been beatified.
This likely will come as a disappointment to Richard Rossi, who since 2014 has been trying to drum up support to make Clemente a saint.
Rossi’s journey began after he directed “Baseball’s Last Hero,” an independent film about the life of Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates star and devout Catholic who died in 1972 while attempting to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
To become canonized, potential saints need to show proof of at least two miracles. Rossi has claimed that the first came last month, when former Olympian Jamie Nieto — who played Clemente in Rossi’s film — managed to walk again after a back-flip accident in April 2016 rendered the high jumper partially paralyzed from the neck down. His signature move during his competitive years more than a decade ago, Nieto tried to perform the move as a coach but slipped and broke his neck.
Despite given a slim chance by doctors to regain enough strength and mobility in his legs to walk again, Nieto proved them wrong, the Associated Press reports. The Olympian took 130 nearly unaided steps at his wedding to Jamaican hurdler Shevon Stoddart. He had proposed to her while still in a wheelchair just six months after his accident.
While Nieto credited his recovery to his having “worked really hard,” according to the AP, Rossi apparently credited Nieto’s recovery to the spirit of Clemente. His proof, according to what appears to be a fake news release posted to Christian Newswire, is documented in a supposed letter he wrote last year to Pope Francis.
“In meditation, it was revealed to me that Roberto Clemente was a saint,” said Rossi of what he wrote in that letter. “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.”
The Vatican could not immediately confirm whether it received such a letter or that anyone in the Church may have ever replied to Rossi.
“Pope Francis receives thousands of letters every day,” a Vatican spokeswoman said.
Rossi provided a photograph of a letter that appeared to come from the Vatican that was dated December 2014 and signed by P. Boguslaw Turek. The letter stated that any attempt to canonize Clemente must first go through the Archbishop of San Juan in Puerto Rico.
Rossi admitted in an email to The Post: “[T]he Archbishop of Puerto Rico has been less passionate than Pope Francis” about making Clemente a saint, but insisted it will happen.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Rossi, who grew up near Pittsburgh, was the pastor of a nontraditional church in Cranberry, Pa., who was charged in 1994 with attempted murder in the beating of his wife. According to the Post-Gazette, she recanted her story, the trial ended in a hung jury, and he served 96 days in jail after a plea bargain. He and his family moved to Southern California in the mid-1990s, where he became pastor of a church in Long Beach, but left after charges of misdirected funds, the paper said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Pope Francis was aware of Rossi’s attempts at beatification. That is erroneous.