BY FATHER TIM JOHNSON - ST. JOSEPH CATHOLIC CHURCH
I woke up on the first day of January, 1973, surprised to read the headlines of the morning paper, “Clemente dies in plane crash.” Sixteen years old and an avid sports fan, I knew Roberto Clemente was one of the greatest ball players at the time. He played in 15 All-Star Games, winning the batting title four times, Gold Glove recipient for 12 consecutive seasons, a batting average over .300 while accumulating exactly 3,000 hits — and he was still playing. His ability on the field was equaled by his Christian integrity off.
Roberto died while delivering basic supplies and food to the earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He always carried an attitude of gratitude for his many blessings by sharing with others in need throughout his life. He played for one team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, though he never forgot his roots.
Roberto was born and raised in Puerto Rico to Luisa and Melchior Clemente — the youngest of seven siblings — during a time of extreme hardships. Income was a meager 30 cents a day and the average life span was only 46 years. Thousands of infants died of diarrhea, gastroenteritis, pneumonia and influenza. In Roberto’s neighborhood, it was not rare to see the neighbors somberly in a procession with a tiny wooden casket, burying their infant in the local cemetery.
Roberto was brought up in a Christian home, his father a Baptist, his mother a Catholic. Looking back, he commented: “When I was a boy, I realized what lovely persons my father and mother were … I learned the right way to live. I never heard any hate in my house. Not for anybody. I never heard my mother say a bad word to my father, or my father to my mother. During the war, when food all over Puerto Rico was limited, we never went hungry. They always found a way to feed us. We kids were first and they were second.”
Enduring discrimination and prejudice during his early years in major league baseball, he never gave in to the temptation of retaliation or anger. Instead, he relied on the foundation of the Christian dignity and beliefs his parents instilled, choosing to concentrate on his blessings and opportunities as God provided. In turn, Roberto reached out to others in need and would often return to his native land of Puerto Rico, helping out children and families through his Little League efforts and community outreach.
As we all are aware of, the island of Puerto Rico has been devastated by the recent storms; the majority of families are without basic essentials for day-to-day life. Through various organizations, we have opportunities to donate if such is our desire. As Christians, we have the calling to pray for the families and hope of those suffering in Puerto Rico. As Christians, we are called to graciously recognize our blessings and opportunities — however modest — and look for ways to share the gift of hope with others seeking the same.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
As Roberto understood, his integrity was not tied to his feats on the field, but within his gratitude and compassionate generosity as a Christian.