HARTFORD — - Gloria Pimentel lit two candles Monday for Oscar Antuñez and Michael Colmer — homeless men who left an indelible impression on her before they died.
Standing before more than 200 homeless men, women and advocates at Trinity Episcopal Church, Pimentel, the program manager at McKinney Shelter, hoped that they, too, would remember Antuñez, who died last year the day after Christmas, and Colmer, who died in April.
"Oscar Antuñez, we'll miss your smile and your honesty," Pimentel said. "You died by yourself in the back of St. Peter's Church on Main Street."
For Pimentel and many others, Monday's interfaith event was a chance to remember men and women who are often invisible to society. The memorial, one of many throughout the country, took place on Homeless Persons' Memorial Day, serving as a reminder of the struggles of Connecticut's estimated 33,000 homeless citizens.
For Diane Randall, executive director of the Partnership for Strong Communities, the event helped recognize the growing problem of homelessness, which is affecting a growing number of families in Connecticut.
"It's a reminder that despite the difficulties that many of us are facing in the current economic environment, there are people who literally have nothing," she said.
About 40 churches and organizations helped organize the event, which last year took place during an attendance-busting snowstorm. This year, the homeless people who attended received donated socks, gloves and hats and enjoyed a Thanksgiving-style meal after the service.
Dr. Reza Mansoor, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital and president of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, began the memorial with a traditional Muslim call to service. The audience members fell silent as Mansoor exhorted them to devote their time to God, his voice filling the church's nave.
Afterward, he asked the audience to remember Iraqi and Somali immigrants living in Hartford and "seeking safety ... from the ravages of war."
"We are here together standing up for a just cause, but let us now take the next step and work together as a faith community," he said.
During the service, guests rose to say the names of loved ones who have died. So far this year, Hartford shelters have counted 19 people who have died.
Arthur Beecham, a 60-year-old resident of Mercy House's transitional housing program, remembered his friend, Tim Watkins, who died in 2007.
Watkins, who would say that shelters were too rough, didn't seek the medical attention he needed, Beecham said. He died alone, beneath a bridge near the old Colt building.
Beecham said the memorial was comforting.
"It made me feel good and happy to think about him — that I could speak for him," he said. "I didn't know nothing bad to say about him. At one time, they said, he was a boxer."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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