NEW ORLEANS -- Father William Maestri needs help to walk even short distances, and he must sit during Ash Wednesday mass. The uncontrollable trembling in his hands shows the battle against serious illness he says doctors are still trying to diagnose.
"There's the possibility that it is Parkinson's and Leukemia," Father Maestri said.
During the mass at the start of Lent, Father Maestri talked about not being afraid of death.
"God means to kill us all anyway, so that we can go home, because this is not our home, this is a pilgrimage," he said. "Life is traveling through, and we each travel through in our own way. And I'm ready to go home."
The priest, who was ordained in 1977, is retiring and flying to California on Sunday to concentrate on his health battle, but leaving New Orleans brings tears.
"Sometimes the greatest act of love is letting go. It's not holding on, but letting go," Maestri said.
In four decades as a priest, Father Maestri has written over 40 books, been the spokesman for the Archdiocese, and Catholic schools' superintendent.
"The happiest moments in my life have been when I was able to, I think, serve God through serving others," he explained.
Over the last three years he has run the Bishop Perry Center, working to help homeless families start over, with food, clothing, education and jobs.
"I'm talking about providing services so that people can receive a hand up, not just a handout," Maestri said. "We have people who are living on the river in boxes, and they ask 'Do you have a box I can stay in?'" Maestri said.
Helping them is what drives him.
"What I have is a desire to do what I can so that their lives can become better."
Father Maestri is asking for donations so the work can continue, even if he's gone.
"We need financial help, but we also need food, we need clothing," he said. "We have got such tremendous support from people, and I hope it continues."
To donate, call the Bishop Perry Center at 227-3272, or visit the Archdiocese Donation website at , and select the Bishop Perry Center as the recipient. You can also make donations during the Center's Lenten Concert Series at St. Mary's Catholic Church every Thursday from Feb. 10 through March 17th.