A homeless man who became a regular figure at the Vatican for his years of Catholic devotion was buried in a Vatican City cemetery after his remains were left in a morgue unidentified for nearly two months. Pope Francis personally authorized Willy Herteller to be buried in the Teutonic Cemetery, which was founded around the year 800 as a resting place for knights, fallen Swiss guards and royalty.
Herteller, thought to be around 80 years old, “attended 7 o’clock Mass every day for more than 25 years,” said the Rev. Bruno Silvestrinia, pastor of the Vatican’s Church of St. Anne, according to the National Catholic Reporter. He had become known by the Swiss Guard, church officials and other regulars around the Vatican. He would often hang out near St. Peter’s Square and discuss his faith with tourists and pilgrims who came to Vatican City, surviving on their charity and the help of locals.
Herteller died on Dec. 12, 2014, after collapsing on a cold night outside the Vatican grounds and being taken to a hospital in Rome. His friends became worried after weeks of not hearing from him, so they went to hospitals and eventually identified his body.
One of Herteller’s friends was Monsignor Americo Ciani, who asked Pope Francis to allow him to be buried in the Teutonic Cemetery and then later led his funeral service on Feb. 9. Ciani asked for Herteller to be buried in the Teutonic Cemetery specifically because Herteller was Flemish and the cemetery was set up for particularly notable German, Flemish and Swiss Catholics.
Ciani praised Herteller for his faith, calling him “a man who appeared to be alone, but who never felt alone because God’s grace was present in him,” and said the decision to bury Herteller at the Teutonic Cemetery was an affirmation of Francis’ emphasis on ministering to the neglected and disaffected.