Saint Roberto Clemente?: Former Pittsburgh pastor seeks sainthood for the Pirates great

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Saint Roberto?

Richard Rossi thinks a case can be made on behalf of the Pirates’ late right fielder, Roberto Clemente.

Mr. Rossi, who directed and played a scout in the recent movie “Baseball’s Last Hero: 21 Clemente Stories,” is seeking to document miracles in his pitch to have Mr. Clemente canonized as a saint.

On Friday, Mr. Rossi received a letter from the Vatican through the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., that informs him the authority to begin the process rests with the archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Mr. Clemente, who played 18 seasons with the Pirates and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, died on New Year’s Eve, 1972, when the plane in which he was carrying earthquake relief supplies to Nicaragua crashed off the coast of San Juan.

Mr. Rossi cited Mr. Clemente’s sacrifice as a Christlike mission.

“It wasn’t just the magic of how he played but the way he died was such an example,” he said. “He was a man who lived with lots of temptations in the real world and who showed us how to live.”

A native of West View who grew up a fan, Mr. Rossi was the pastor of a nontraditional church in Cranberry. He made headlines in 1994 after being charged with attempted murder in the beating of his wife. 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.

His film industry work includes writing and directing a 2008 film on the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, plus bit roles in numerous TV shows, including “The King of Queens,” “Ally McBeal,” “The X-Files” and “Gilmore Girls” and several movies.

He admitted that so far, the sainthood efforts have been “very media driven. What’s important is a grassroots effort. We have had people contact us on social media.”

Another person is thinking along the same lines. Carmen Nanko-Fernandez, an associate professor of Hispanic theology and ministry at the Catholic Theological Union, is writing a book “¡El Santo! Baseball and the Canonization of Roberto Clemente.”

She could not be reached to discuss her project.

While being able to throw a strike from the right field warning track to nail a runner at third might seem like a miracle, that’s not the kind that would fly at the Vatican.

“We’ve been gathering stories and trying to check them out,” Mr. Rossi said. “One is that he did hands-on healing. We’re trying to figure out how much of it would qualify. He seemed to understand a lot about pressure points,” from his own back pain. “The challenge is finding out what was apocryphal.”

The movie, which had a local showing last year, includes a scene in which Mr. Clemente, played by Jamie Nieto, meets with a nun for a long discussion about sacrificial love.

“I had a conversation with the nun who told me about the conversation she had with him,” he said. “Some people in Hollywood thought it was too theological and slowed down the film, but we ended up filming this extra scene.”

He said the idea to pursue canonization of Mr. Clemente came to him during a meditation.

“No matter how crazy people would say I was,” he said, “I could at least make the effort.”

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