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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, August 17, 2017 1:20 pm

After July 'miracle,' Pope Francis reportedly moves Roberto Clemente closer to sainthood

MARISSA PAYNE | Washington Post

Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente is one step closer to becoming a saint, according to Christian Newswire, which reported late last month that Pope Francis officially declared the former Pittsburgh Pirate "blessed."

With beatification, the Puerto Rican has just one step left to become a saint, according to the Catholic Church.

The pope's official blessing came after Clemente apparently met the requirement to perform a miracle. The alleged miracle happened last month when former Olympian Jamie Nieto, who once played Clemente in the film "Baseball's Last Hero," 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 reported. 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, "Baseball's Last Hero" director Richard Rossi credited Nieto's "miracle" recovery to the spirit of Clemente. His proof, according to Christian Newswire, is documented in a letter he wrote last year to Pope Francis.

"In meditation, it was revealed to me that Roberto Clemente was a saint," Rossi wrote. "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."

According to Rossi, who began his campaign to make Clemente a saint in 2014, this is not the first miracle to occur in Clemente's name.

Rossi also contends Clemente, a Catholic who died in 1972 while attempting to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, performed miracles while he was alive as well.

According to a Religion News Service article from 2014, Rossi and a group of volunteers spent time traveling to hear stories about Clemente and used scientific tools, medical records and other methods to try to verify Clemente's "miraculous healing touch."

To become canonized, potential saints need to show proof of at least two miracles. With the first one now apparently down, the world now must wait for the verification of a second.

Rossi did not immediately return the Washington Post's request to comment about what that next miracle may entail, but he showed enthusiasm for last month's news, tweeting Clemente's beatification essentially "greenlights [the player] for canonization."