Wednesday, 2 March 2011
I waited until the last of the congregation had left the church for the day. I had stood there at the end of Mass shaking their hands and thanking them for coming as I did every day. It was a beautiful sunny day outside and I stood in the door way watching them as they made their way through the sunlit courtyard. The flowers bloomed in the warm weather adding colour to a once grey area. It had been an eventful service today. There had been a spate of killings in the area over the past few days. The Mafia had started to exert its power once again. After a period of quietness, the area had once again run rivers of blood through the streets of Palermo.
It saddened me that young men thought that a life of honour was their only way out. The way of the Lord was not like this, he spoke of loving each other but these men?, What did they care for apart from power and money. Thou shalt not steal, the Lord had said. They didn't care at all, they were only interested in making sure that people did as they were told when they told them to do it. That good honest people would part with their hard earned money for protection from the very people that took it from them. These people were my congregation and many, many times I had been witness to their tears at the injustice of it all. I had been asked many times to intervene, but it wasn't my place I knew that. They would listen then tell me to mind my own business. If I pushed it too far they would send someone to deal with me. These men knew no shame.
When I first started as a priest many years ago people used to come to me for advice. I would listen as they unburdened their souls, riding themselves of their inner most darkest sins. I would hold their hands, not speaking until they felt their troubles had left them, finally unburdening their greatest fears and worries onto my shoulders, leaving me with the worries that had kept them awake at night, leaving me to pray for them, in the hope that Our Father would take from me from the sins of others that I carried with me. I would pray of an evening to Our Father hoping that he would allow them some peace. I brought them comfort, Our Father bought them forgiveness and hope. The strength of their faith allowed them to face whatever was coming their way in life, whatever that may be.
I turned and walked through the church, my shoes made no sound on the concrete floor. This had been my home for over 30 years now. I had watched children born and grow into men. These men then became part of the community, helping their Fathers and Mothers in the family business. Others became part of a different community, the Mafia, once in there was only one way out. Old age didn't great many of them. Fighting over areas and money when their fate befell them I would bury them. It never got any easier for me, but it was the life they had chosen and I couldn't stop it happening.
Even though it was cool in the church the sun shone brightly through the stain glassed windows, encasing the altar with reds, blues and greens, it was beautiful and no matter how many times I saw it, it still took my breath away. I picked up the bibles, that I had collected by the door, and placed them in a neat stack at the end of the isles. The dark wooden benches empty now when before there had been my congregation, young and old they came from all over the town every Sunday to pray, to wash away their woes of the week and leave with Our Father in their hearts. With hope to get through another week. I made my way towards the altar at the front of the church and noticed the Chalice and Paten laying on the table.
They shone brightly as the light shone from the windows. I stood there looking up at the statue of Jesus hanging from the cross that hung high above me. I knelt on the thick deep mauve carpet underneath him and made the sign of the cross, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" I muttered to myself, as I prayed the war that had started again would one day fall silent. The guns would stop sounding, the mothers would stop crying for the loss of their children and the Mafia would once again fall under the spell of the police. It had been quiet for many years, no gang warfare, the older Godfathers had called a truce, mainly due to the police chief that had removed the corruption from his force.
He had told the Godfathers that he would send them all to prison for many years if they didn't control their ways.This worried them, they were old men, they didn't want to spend their final years in a damp prison cell Prison isn't like what you see in the films for the Mafia Godfathers inside. Yes they are looked after but not in the way that they can have whatever they want. These men knew that if they went away they wouldn't see their wife's, children or grandchildren other than from the inside of a prison cell. So they agreed to toe the line, to tone down the violence that they so freely handed out without a moments thought. They knew their time had been and gone and so they waited for the next generation to take over and avenge what they saw as an inconvenience.
This was the way of the Mafia in Italy. Their poisonous tentacles spread through many layers of government, council's and police. They controlled what they wanted and whoever crossed them would pay with their lives. This police chief was different, he wanted peace without blood shed and he knew the way to do this was to talk to them, to get them to curb their ways. He knew that the age that a lot of these Godfathers were now, they couldn't face the prison sentences that would be laid down on to them so he sought to control it, not let it get out of hand. He had done this well for many years, but then they started to pass away and new, younger Godfathers emerged. Powered by ego and greed the blood had started to flow once again. The death of the Police Chief was the final act to allow all out war and the bad days had returned once again.
I walked over to the linen corporal that was spread other the alter and picked up the chalice and the Paten, which earlier had held the grape wine mixed with water and the bread, wheaten and unleavened. Mass had been a little quieter than normal, people seemed lost in their thoughts, praying as I did for an end to the blood being spilt in the name of greed and honour. Honour? Where is the honour in killing another?. There was no such thing and they knew it. They came to me just before they went on one of their 'missions', they expected me to be there to listen to their confessions, to baptise their children and marry them to their loves. They came and took the lords name in vain, all of them everyone of them. I didn't hate them though, I pitied them, they knew no other way.
I walked through the heavy oak door and into my chamber. I removed my robes from the service and hung them neatly on the coat stand that stood in the corner of the room. My desk was empty apart from my phone and a few sermons for the up coming services I had. I removed my plain black jacket from the hanger and put it on. I stood there looking in the mirror at my reflection. A man older now than I would like, my hair grey, the lines on my face deeper as well but a burden I carried from a life I lived before I found God. My face tanned and weathered from the sun that always seemed to be shinning. My eyes had lost their spark many years ago, they looked dull and grey now rather than the brightness that had shone in them as a young man.
When I was a child I went to church all the time, I didn't pay much attention but as my life changed and I grew older I took comfort in the message of the Lord. I had chosen to be a priest at one stage but circumstance worked against me and I took over my fathers business, running it successfully for a few years.Then I entered the witness protection programme after I went against the other Godfathers, I was one also, the youngest ever in Italy. The killing of a local priest went against everything I stood for, the life I had been born into, there was honour then amongst men. The rules were simple, you didn't harm women or children and you left the church alone whatever they said. Except this one Godfather, young and stupid he killed a priest. I saw him do it and I had to go against him. It was agreed with the other Godfathers that I would be the one to tell the police. I would be left alone for the rest of my life as long as I entered into the witness protection programme and said no more. The truth would die with the Godfathers of the time, and I left that life behind to bring justice to the church. My new identify was perfect and I worked tirelessly in the role.
So here I am, many many years later a man of peace, a man of faith, waiting and hoping until one day a man like I used to be comes for my help, to turn their back on the life they lead. I shall be here for them no matter what they have done. After all it is the way of the Lord to accept all those that wish to repent their sins.
Thanks to Mark Abernathy for the idea. He gave me a slightly different scenario to this one but it was him who sparked the idea.