‘Gaetano’s Mission Has Just Begun’

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Solemn Requiem Mass Homily for Gaetano Tinnirello

By Don Vilmar Pavesi, priest of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, Rome – November 18, 2021

I thirst. On the Cross, in his agony, Jesus thirsted. It was an immense thirst, caused by his wounds. But it was above all a spiritual thirst. Jesus thirsted, and He still thirsts for souls, because He seeks souls in order to save them, without disdaining any of them.

Gaetano also thirsted. When I met him in the hospital, his mouth was parched. Father, I’m thirsty, give me a drink, was the first thing he asked me. After inquiring if I could do so, I started to give him something to drink using a syringe and a straw. He could not move. After he had drunk half a small bottle of water, I told him: Gaetano, think of Jesus Christ on the Cross. He was thirsty too, but nobody gave Him a drink. Now you can understand him better. He nodded his head. Then I asked him if he wanted to go to confession. He said yes. He was perfectly lucid. He didn’t get tired. He confessed with the best dispositions of the soul, with humility and with sincerity. And we then prayed his penance together. Afterwards, seeing signs of suffering in his face, because of the pains, I advised him to offer everything for the love of God: Jesus, I offer all for love of you. And he repeated with me, like a child: Jesus, I offer all for love of you.

Then I told him that I wanted to give him Extreme Unction as well, and he agreed. After Extreme Unction he asked me for more water because he was still thirsty. Poor Gaetano, who still thirsted, by his Confession and Extreme Unction relieved God’s thirst. Before leaving him, we talked about various things and about his life after hospital.

He asked me to find him housing, and I promised him I would.

Then he asked me where he was at that moment? “At St. Camillo [hospital],” I replied.

“How far is that from the parish?” “Ten minutes by tram,” I told him.

“When will I take the tram again?” “When God wills. You don’t have to worry about the future. Lord, thy will be done.”And once again, like a child, he repeated, “Lord, thy will be done.”

I brought Gaetano the greetings of all the priests of the parish, especially the parish priest, and the people who had an affection and compassion for him. At one point I had to leave. “Ah, if you must go, give me more water first and then you can leave.” After the last blessing and greeting, he said to me, “Father, thank you. It has been a great pleasure.”

The first time I visited him in the hospital, it was on a Saturday after his first surgery. He was in a coma and in grave danger of death. Normally, I always carry the oil of the sick with me, but that day, by chance, I didn’t have any. And since it was too late, they wouldn’t let me see him. So I returned on Monday, this time with the Holy Oil. Gaetano was perfectly lucid. The next day he went back into a coma, underwent another operation, and remained in a coma until the day he died. He seems to have returned to consciousness only for a few hours, like that child who resurrected in the time of St. Philip Neri, only to be able to confess and receive Extreme Unction, and then die again. Speaking of Saint Philip Neri, Gaetano, without knowing it, lived one of his counsels. In fact, every day he would enter the church, pay his greetings to all the saints, and then when he approached the High Altar, he would prostrate himself on the floor, kiss the ground and pray. This is exactly what Saint Philip Neri taught: “When you have little time or you cannot pray well, enter a church and greet all the saints. You will have prayed very well.”  I always thought that the Lord would save him for this act of piety, done with such sincerity. And also for the Rosary and the Miraculous Medal he wore around his neck.

I once found him in the church fixing the floor. Do you remember when pieces of the marble floor tiles were dislodged? Without saying anything to anyone, he began to fix the marble slabs. In fact, more than one person had stumbled on them. “Gaetano, what are you doing? Fixing the marble! This is dangerous. I’m not doing it for money. I am doing it because it’s God’s house, and God’s house is my house too.”

He wanted to work. He wanted to make himself useful. He cleaned the street because he said he lived there and so he wanted it to be clean. He also cleaned the church steps. More than once I saw him spontaneously help the garbage collectors pick up the garbage. He did it without self-interest, just to help out.

When he first arrived here, he was wearing earrings. I can’t abide men with earrings. So one day I proposed that he sell them to me. When Gaetano understood the reason why I wanted to buy them, he took off his earrings, threw them down a drain and promised me that he would never wear them again and didn’t want the money. And that was that.

Gaetano’s death at the age of 33 is a great loss for all of us. His presence gave the parish a colorful face. His was a good presence. He knew how to make everyone love him. Even his dog was so good with him. Gaetano’s death is a great sorrow for everyone, because in the depths of our souls, we all feel a bit responsible. He was one of Christ’s least brothers, because he needed immense help in both his body and soul. More than money, he needed sincere affection and possibilities.

How many times did we return his spontaneous “good evening” with indifference, coldness or haste? How many times did we walk past him, without even looking at him, when he was not well? “As often as you have done these things to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.” (Mt 25).

Lord, before this, his body, we ask your forgiveness for all the good that we could have done to Gaetano and did not do. Lord, before this body, we promise to receive with generosity and love the poor that your Providence deigns to send us.

I would be unjust, however, if I had only reproaches before his body. Gaetano’s death has already begun to bear fruit. The hearts of many have been touched and become more open to charity. Very edifying is the number of people who continually request Masses for his soul. This is a great charity. Others have offered to give him a proper burial. This too is a work of mercy pleasing to the Lord. Some young people looked after Gaetano with sincere love during his last weeks. They are the ones who brought and accompanied me to the hospital. May the Lord bless you.

Gaetano still has a great mission among us. In fact, his mission has just begun. Poor, but blessed by the Lord, he must teach us to be charitable. He must teach us to have great hope in God. The Lord brought him close to this parish. He enabled him to discover Christian affection among his faithful and priests because He wanted to give him the eternal happiness of Heaven. Gaetano also has the mission of giving the Archconfraternity of the Holy Trinity a new impetus in its spiritual and corporal works of charity. Saint Philip Neri, pray for him. Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, pray for him. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for him.

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