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Hundreds bid farewell to homeless man killed outside South Tampa church

Marie Lorenzo prays between tears during the funeral Mass for Rolando Rivera-Arroyo at Christ the King Catholic Church.

LEAH MILLIS | Times

Marie Lorenzo prays between tears during the funeral Mass for Rolando Rivera-Arroyo at Christ the King Catholic Church.

TAMPA — Most of the more than 300 people at Rolando Rivera-Arroyo's funeral Mass had seen him in some part of South Tampa, propelling himself in his wheelchair.

But his favorite place lately was Christ the King Catholic Church, 821 S Dale Mabry Highway.

Father Len Plazewski had cautioned Rivera-Arroyo, also known as "Chico," about panhandling on church grounds.

"He said, 'It's my job to ask people for money,' " Plazewski joked during the service Thursday. "I said, 'No. It's not.' "

Rivera-Arroyo was found dead in Christ the King's parking lot early Aug. 16, lodged under the white Toyota of 33-year-old Publix employee Michael Marston.

Tampa police said Rivera-Arroyo, 73, who was homeless, was stabbed and run over by Marston after a disagreement.

A week after the death, parishioners at Christ the King and friends gathered to celebrate Rivera-Arroyo's life. The seemingly longtime homeless man had no known family members. Blount & Curry Funeral Home arranged the funeral services and transportation, and Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Pinellas Park donated a burial plot.

"We gather here to celebrate the value of human life," Plazew­ski told a nearly filled church. "Hopefully, he now enjoys a mansion much greater than anything we might see on Bayshore Boulevard."

Plazewski said he only recently learned that Rivera-Arroyo was born in Puerto Rico and that he may have been a foreman in a Campbell Soup factory long ago. But most knew him only as the kind and gentle homeless man in a wheelchair.

"We fed him four days a week and even gave him his wheelchair," said Clyde Barr, 79, a volunteer with the temporarily closed Faith Cafe, which serves meals to homeless people in downtown Tampa. "He could stand but he couldn't walk on his own."

A few parishioners said they noticed Rivera-Arroyo sticking close to the church in recent weeks. Now the church will not allow such a practice.

"He used to hang out here and sleep here," Plazewski said. "Some people would offer him and occasional others money. He was kind of a fixture."

In the future, homeless people will be asked not to panhandle or sleep on church property, instead directed to places they can go for services.

"We want people to be safe here, from homeless people to millionaires," Plazewski explained.

Marston remained held in a Hillsborough County jail, facing second-degree murder and several other charges.

Plazewski accompanied Rivera-Arroyo's casket out of the church and into a hearse for his final ride.

"We are here to testify to our community and society at large that no matter who you are, you are not alone," he said.

Hundreds bid farewell to homeless man killed outside South Tampa church 08/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 11:29pm]
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