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Neighborhood Report

A faithful servant moves on

Ultimately, so does the wooden cross that an unforgettable character on Armenia was known for.

Published June 9, 2006

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[Times photo: Brian Cassella]
Rogelio Sanchez hugs his neighbor and close friend Lana Gonzalez in his yard on N Armenia Ave during his last night at his old house. Over 15 years he built a shrine in the yard, which became both a religious and neighborhood icon.
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NORTH HYDE PARK - A dozen birds swarmed the power lines above the backyard shrine on Armenia Avenue at sunset last week. The wind blew strong.

Rogelio Sanchez lit up his 8-foot-tall wooden cross for the last time. For the man who believes he can summon the wind and communicate with birds, it was a celestial farewell.

Sanchez, 63, wore a blue choir robe. A metal cross hung around his neck with Gasparilla beads. Sanchez raised his skinny sun-weathered arms toward the sky.

The neighbors cried. Sanchez prayed.

"Nobody kicks me out," Sanchez later said in Spanish. "God moves me."

In mid May, Sanchez received a letter from Henry Hicks, the new owner of the building Sanchez has rented for 15 years. The notice said Sanchez had to leave by June 1.

Hicks, a real estate lawyer, said he had hoped to allow tenants to live there for another six months, but because of the building's old knob and tube electrical wiring, Hicks couldn't get anyone to insure the building without updating the wiring.

He plans to bulldoze the house at 808 N Armenia Ave. to construct an office building for his law firm, so he didn't make the changes. He gave Sanchez $80 to help with his move.

"I'm leaving, but I'll never be gone," Sanchez said as he hugged neighbor Lana Gonzalez.

"I'm never going to forget you," Gonzalez told him.

Gonzalez cried as she recalled the night four years ago when Sanchez asked her for the leftover lumber in her yard to make his cross. He thanked her, lifted the 16-foot beams onto his shoulders and walked home in the rain.

Patricia Calves told of the first night she met Sanchez. Her door blew open in a downpour, and her cat Max ran away. Calves looked all over for the white cat. Then, she came upon Sanchez, sitting in his back yard.

"I've been waiting for you," she recalled his saying. He handed her a flashlight and told her he would find her cat. As soon as she walked back home, Max was waiting on her porch.

Sanchez doesn't call himself a prophet. He says he's a messenger sent by God to do good things on Earth.

As the neighbors said their goodbyes May 31, a woman walked by his yard carrying a bicycle missing a wheel. Sanchez stopped her and put on a new wheel. It fit perfectly.

He stayed up until 1 a.m. the next morning, keeping watch over his shrine.

In front of his new apartment on Morgan Street in Tampa Heights, he places a smaller plastic cross behind his big green van. Sanchez doesn't want to call too much attention to himself in the new neighborhood.

He hopes he can move again soon. A hernia makes it hard for him to climb the stairs to his second-story apartment.

His second night in his new apartment, Sanchez said God spoke to him in a dream and told him to save the old cross. So with some help from neighbors, he roped the ends and pulled it out of the ground.

He couldn't take it with him to his new apartment, but a friend agreed to store it until Sanchez can find a house. Sanchez has faith that he and the cross will find a permanent home soon.

"The hard times make me stronger," he said. "Sometimes you get sad, but then you realize it's a part of life."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or

[Last modified June 8, 2006, 11:45:02]

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