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Mister Jimmy, Homeless but for Heaven

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After the death of his wife, he spent days and nights on the bench in front of the parish of St. Pius V and said, "God bless you ..."

Mister Jimmy left us in early October. His name was Jaime Ernesto Alvaro Martinez. He was a native of Peru, but everyone knew him in the Roman neighborhood just a few miles from the Vatican. Many stopped to greet him and chat. “Dios te bendiga!” (“God bless you!”) were always his words of greeting.

After the death of his wife, and for several years, Mister Jimmy spent his days on the bench in front of the Church of St. Pius V. After a while he became a fixture, always there, like a church pillar, even present at night. He would sleep on the bench despite the weather. Just last winter the parish priest, Father Donato, had managed to put Mister Jimmy up in one of the rooms of the parish, but it only lasted a day before he returned to his spot on the bench. He had made up his mind that his house was the church, which he entered every morning, beginning his day with a sign of the cross and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

In fact, Mister Jimmy was what we would usually call a beggar, a bum, a homeless man on the margins. But his life had not always been lived on the street. He’d had a family, a secure job in Milan, a promising future; he’d played sports and liked to go sailing. The death of his beloved wife, though, threw him into grief-born despair, and then rebellion and then to the streets.

So he arrived in Rome and soon conquered the bench in front of the church and the sympathies and affections of the parishioners. His family is in Peru, but he said he never wanted to return there; perhaps he thought he would shame his mother. He liked orange juice and would ask for it. He smoked cigarettes, not cigars, because they smelled bad. He could be bitter and was sometimes stubborn, and that would sometimes lead to rough times with local gangs, and even fights with his bench-companions, the ramshackle company of gathered street persons for whom he was both magnet and glue.

A soccer fan, Mister Jimmy was fiercely loyal to Team Roma and was always ready to kick the ball around, even if he’d had “a bit too much to drink.”

He had been set back in the summer of 2014, with a hospitalization that sent him back to the front of the church, this time with a crutch. Then he began to fade. With summer came the wheelchair, then he began to refuse the food, and finally a last hospitalization.

At his funeral the pastor spoke these words: “The mysterious ways of life led him to Rome, here, on the threshold of the church. He is now on the threshold of paradise, waiting for his turn of entry; we hope God certainly embraces him after the trouble of this life, and for his time among the poor and lost, for whom Jesus came. At the end of our time, we know through the revelation of Jesus, who judges our fitness for heaven, it will matter if we were able to see in the face of the hungry and thirsty, the face of Christ also. Mister Jimmy was not thought worthy of God’s mercy, but in his heart he was always seeking. And this mercy of Christ he will find for sure, stronger than any error and of all evil.”

Translated from the Italian.

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