THE VATICAN CONSPIRACY
Pope Francis lithely entered into the small chapel next to his private quarters. The dark
chapel was dimly lit by a row of flickering votive candles that cast a soothing splay of
shadows across the ancient altar. The Pope knelt his thin, angular body before it; his
white cassock cascaded across the red, soft cushion. He gently entwined the ebony
rosary beads between his fingers, crossed himself in the supplicant tradition, and kissed
the crucifix as he closed his eyes and began to recite out-loud the Five Holy Mysteries of
His nightly reverie, before bed, calmed him and connected his soul to the sublime
obedience of God. During these moments of prayer, he put the chaos of his Office into
perspective: the business of running the Vatican, the spiritual responsibility of guiding
over one-billion Catholics in the area of faith and morals. This was his time to commune
with his own spirituality, to harmonize his soul with the peace of his Father in Heaven.
He rolled the rosary beads, one by one, through his fingers as he chanted the Ave
Maria. His voice rose into a cadence of a Gregorian chant, the beauty of the alliterated
ancient Latin echoed through the chapel like a spiritual sonnet.
As he prayed, a soft, almost imperceptible light began to invade the small
shadowy chapel. Oblivious, he continued his chanting recital of the rosary until the light
brightened into an intrusive force, causing his eyes to open. Startled, he watched with
curious astonishment as a purple mist emanated from the Tabernacle on the altar where
the Holy Eucharist was kept. A singular focus began to take shape within the mist – a
presence with form and face. An indescribable harmonic rhythm pulsated from an
iridescent, glowing white and purple translucent form, which floated above the altar and
then started moving toward him.
His heart pounded with both fear and excitement as the ethereal presence
shimmered before him. The apparition raised, what appeared to be, a filmy form of an
arm that began to roll toward him like a slow moving ocean wave; it pointed a milky
white semblance of a finger directly at his chest and then smoothly entered into Francis’
Transfixed by the face of the purple presence, which seemed neither male nor
female, froze his body, mind and spirit into an eternal moment of ecstasy. No words, only
the rhythmic pulsing. He saw what he thought to be a smile forming on the face of the
unworldly presence, his being filled with a soothing, warm liquid-like feeling as four
names were imprinted into his mind.
Throngs of tourists spread out over St. Peter’s Square like a living quilt. The late morning
sun broke through a bank of gray clouds, and rays of sun spotlighted the hills of Rome.
Alfredo, the Pope’s personal secretary, knocked once and then entered the Pope’s
private office. “Your Holiness,” Alfredo said, dipping his head in a gesture of respect,
“you’ve got a full schedule today. By the way,” his voice rising slightly, “I should warn
you that Cardinal Berini is on the warpath again. I heard him shouting up and down the
halls that the American Bishops were trying to rewrite Church Doctrine again.”
Ignoring Alfredo’s concerned warning, “Sit down, Alfredo,” the Pope said,
removing his glasses and motioning him toward a chair next to his desk, “I want to talk to
The Pope’s usually robust and eager mood, to which Alfredo had become
accustomed, was strangely absent. “ Is His Holiness feeling well?” he asked with genuine
concern, as he sat down.
“We are fine, Alfredo.” The Pope paused and looked out the window, which was
slightly ajar, at two white doves sitting on the ledge, cooing. “I have a special request. A
quiet assignment, Alfredo. Do you know what I mean?” Francis spoke softly as he
For centuries, the word WE was always used instead of I when referring to the
Papacy. After serving three Popes, the use of the word I threw Alfredo momentarily, but
then he quickly reminded himself that this was the first American Pope in history, and
more importantly the first one of Jewish decent, except for maybe the first few of course.
So, if tradition were to be broken it seemed only fitting for Francis, the First, to do it. But
Alfredo was puzzled. During the last eight years the Pope had never broken with any
Vatican tradition. Why today?
“Is it serious, Your Holiness?” Alfredo asked, as deep furrows formed on his
“No, no. Just personal,” he said, shaking his head.
“No, Alfredo. A personal favor. Nothing to do with family or Church business.”
“Whatever Your Holiness wishes.” Alfredo nodded.
“I want you to do this as...as a friend,” Francis said not quite sure how to ask.
“You have served several Popes, and your loyalty has been unique. I know you’ll
maintain the trust I place in you.”
Alfredo began to feel uneasy. “Of course, Your Holiness.”
“I know how difficult your assignment has been, considering everything.”
Alfredo shrugged in a non-committal way.
Francis began to pace. “The Church has become the order of men, instead of the
order of God.”
“Your Holiness,” Alfredo said, sounding like a professor, “Politics has always
been part of the history and doctrine of the Church.”
“You’re right, of course.”
“Your request, Holy Father?”
“Ah, yes. Thank you, Alfredo.” The Pope pulled a notepad from his drawer, tore
off a page and handed it to Alfredo. “Do you know these four names?”
Alfredo studied them for a minute. “A couple of them look familiar, but I can’t be
sure.” He started to hand the page back.
“No, keep it. I want you to find out who these men are, or if they even exist.”
The last words startled Alfredo. “You don’t know them then, Your Eminence?”
“See what you can find out. Quietly, Alfredo.”
“Yes, Your Holiness. I will be discreet.”
“Thank you,” Francis sighed. “Now, for today’s agenda,” he said more upbeat.
“Your first Audience is with a group of young Jesuit Priests from Venice. After
As Alfredo read off the day’s business, the Pontiff’s mind drifted off into the
strange event of the night before. After experiencing a visitation, worthy only of the
mystic saints, he should have felt exhilarated, consumed in a state of reverie. Instead, his
mind reeled in confusion, and his heart ached with a foreboding feeling.
When Alfredo left, Francis dressed to meet the young Jesuits.
The Audience began as usual. Each priest was introduced, then knelt in the ritual
show of obedience to the Vicar of Christ, and kissed the Ring that represented the power
and majesty of the Papal Office. One by one they followed; Francis gave them each, in
turn, the Papal Blessing, that was, until he heard the name “Father Antonio Salvi” -- the
first name that had been imprinted by the strange apparition. The young Jesuit knelt
before him. Francis’ heart quickened. “How long have you been a priest, my son?”
Antonio was startled, visiting priests were spoken to only as a group, never
individually. He couldn’t help but look up into the eyes of the Pontiff. “Five years, Your
Holiness,” he words sputtered out.
“I see... Well, may God bless you in your chosen mission,” Francis said. The
word ‘mission’ instantly rang like a bell in his mind, and immediately realized that the
apparition had come to deliver a Divine Mission, in which, somehow, this young priest
was to play an important role. Francis gave him the Papal Blessing while making the
Sign of the Cross over his head.
When the Audience ended, Francis quickly asked one of the prelates how long the
group would be visiting the Vatican.
“Most of the day, Your Holiness,” he responded. “We’re giving them a complete
tour, and then Cardinal Berini has insisted on giving them a private mass.”
Francis knew it would be more a liturgical lecture than a Pastoral message. “Find
Father Alfredo immediately, and have him come to my office.”
The prelate nodded and moved away swiftly.
Eight years before, when the College of Cardinals had elected him Pope, Cardinal,
Joseph McCully, had taken the name of Francis, the First, out of respect for St. Francis,
the Founder of his order, the Franciscans.
He had been the last Cardinal appointed just prior to the previous Pope’s death.
The chance of him being a potential Successor was unimaginable. Not only because he
had been newly appointed, but primarily because he was an American Cardinal, and the
mood in the Vatican was to return the Papacy to an Italian. Cardinal Berini was the most
obvious choice; he had lobbied, subtly and not so subtly, the most influential Cardinals.
However, after the white smoke rose from the chimney announcing the election of
a new Pope, the word spread like wild fire through the mass of people, who had been
waiting patiently in the Square, that the newly elected Pope was an unknown American
Cardinal; the mostly Italian crowd stared at each other in disbelief.
Later, when the other Cardinals were asked by Berini concerning the voting,
ironically, almost all of them were fuzzy about the actual voting. The next day the Italian
newspapers ran bold headlines declaring the end of the Catholic Church as the world
knew it. Cardinal Berini was furious, and made it known to everyone, including the new
When it was later discovered that Pope Francis was not only a recently appointed
American Cardinal, but that he was of Jewish decent who had been adopted by Catholic
parents: the Lira dropped, the Italian Stock Market almost collapsed; and Cardinal Berini
actually had a mild heart attack.
But during the intervening years, Pope Francis, the First, had become one of the
most effective spiritual spokesmen of the last century. It was he who had found the
solution to the Balkan crisis, and personally mediated a comprehensive peace agreement,
which amazingly enough had held, and in spite of the skepticism had been getting
stronger over the last five years.
Pope Francis, with his magnetic personality and his inclusive religious
pronouncements, had inspired and activated a dormant spiritual power within the
individual, regardless of their religious Faith. In the beginning, many had called him the
Anti-Christ, but now most of his detractors fell silent. He had proven himself as a true
religious leader, that is, except, to Berini who yearned for the good-old days of the
Pope Francis paced in a circle studying the names he had written down. The first name
was Antonio Salvi. He had written the names down immediately after the visitation in the
exact order that they had appeared in his mind. He believed the names were given to him
in a certain order for a specific reason. But what was the reason? Perhaps, after talking
with Father Salvi he would have a better idea as to the significance of the order of the
After the customary knock, Father Alfredo walked, exuberantly, into the room.
“Ah, Alfredo.” Francis interrupted him with his own excitement. “I have met the
first name on the list. He’s a young Jesuit from Venice. He was part of the Audience this
morning. I want you to find him and bring him here, quickly and quietly, Alfredo. I do
not want anyone to know of this meeting, especially, Berini.”
“I will bring him immediately, Holy Father. Also, I believe I know two of the
other names on the list,” Alfredo said, sharing the Pope’s excitement.
“Good. Who are they?”
“If I’m right...” he paused for minute and then frowned. “Holy Father, you may
not like the man who belongs to this name. He is Angelo Gallucci, Capo di Capo of the
Italian Mafia. He possess the name of an angel, but he does the work of the devil,”
Alfredo said, crossing himself.
Francis offered no outward reaction. “He’s the third name on the list, Alfredo.”
“Yes, Holy Father. I thought you would like to know about him first. The second
name on the list is Alexander Artemis, a United States Senator. His picture, conveniently
enough, was all over the front pages of the morning papers. He’s the Chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, and is due to be here in Rome in a few weeks for a
scheduled meeting with the NATO countries. With all the talk of NATO breaking up, the
speculation is that he’s bound to be a central figure in the debate.”
“Has he taken a position?”
“He’s a politician, Holy Father,” Alfredo said, screwing his face into a wry grin.
“Anything else about him?”
“Come, come Alfredo,” Francis said impatiently
“The article said that he might not seek re-election. It seems that his daughter died
under questionable circumstances, and he might have had the real cause of her death
covered up. But, this is only suspicion, rumor, nothing more. The source is attributed to
his political opponent.” Alfredo shrugged his shoulders. “You know politicians, Holy
Father, who can be sure.”
The words, ‘death of his daughter’, echoed in Francis’ ears like the sound of the
Vatican bells. “Anything about when and how his daughter died?”
“It was unclear, Holy Father. Maybe a year ago.”
“Find Father Salvi, Alfredo.” His voice spiked with urgency.
Alfredo nodded and left. Francis walked to the window and watched a flock of
pigeons sail across a gray Italian sky, and thought again about the order of the names he
had been given. The order had to be important. The rumor of the Senator’s daughter’s
death darted through his mind, and suddenly, the warm, liquid-like feeling he had
experienced the night before, filled his chest, and the word “Drugs” were etched into his
mind. “Ah,” he said, quizzically to himself, “it seems, I am only to be told a little at a
time.” Now, at least, he had a direction. His mind immediately turned to Gallucci. What
about Gallucci? Devil or Angel?
Within ten minutes, Father Alfredo knocked on the door and entered into the Pope’s
private office with the young Jesuit priest in tow. Father Salvi looked like someone who
was being brought to the Principal’s office. s Before Alfredo could say a word, the Pope
thanked him and raised one eyebrow, which was their private signal for him to leave. The
Pope felt it unseemly and demeaning to ask his secretary to leave his Presence when
others could hear.
Alfredo bowed and exited quickly through the rustic, door of the Papal office.
Father Salvi stood with his hands folded in front of him, feeling alone and very
uncomfortable before the premiere Eminence of the Roman Catholic Church, to which he
had dedicated his life
The Pope addressed the young priest in Italian. “Father, you look like the fox who
ate the chicken.”
“Your Holiness, have I done something wrong?” the young Jesuit asked with a
great deal of nervousness. “Father Alfredo,” he said, perplexed, “was quite mysterious.
We had to wait until the rest of the group moved on, and then we secretly took your
private elevator, so that no one would see us coming here.”
Francis answered, “I asked Father Alfredo to bring you here, discreetly. A little
melodramatic, perhaps... But, please, come over here and sit down.”
Father Salvi moved with the obedience of a servant and came over to where the
Pope was sitting, knelt down next to him, and started to kiss the Ring.
The Pope withdrew his hand. “Once today is enough. Please sit down Father...
May I call you Antonio?” he asked.
“Of course, Holy Father,” he replied and sat down in an ancient wooden chair.
“Antonio,” the Pope began with a smile, “tell me about yourself? By the way, you
are not in any trouble.”
Antonio relaxed, but only slightly. “Well, Holy Father, I was born in a small town
just outside of Palermo...”
Ah, Angelo Gallucci the Pope mused. Palermo, Sicily was the command center of
“...I had a Calling at an early age. My mother believed it was a good idea to have
a priest in the family, so I was encouraged.”
“And your father?”
“He thought it might be useful someday. You know how Sicilians are.”
“You don’t have a Sicilian accent.”
“I do when I need it.”
“Do you also speak English?”
“Very well, Holy Father,” Antonio replied in perfect English. “I also speak five
other languages fluently,” Antonio said with pride. “And, if I might say, Holy Father, you
speak beautiful Italian.”
“For an American?” the Pope quipped in English.
“Forgive me, Holy Father, I meant no disrespect.”
“None taken. Please continue, in English, if you don’t mind?”
“I would like that very much, I need the practice. But, there’s not much more to
tell, Holy Father. I entered the Seminary at seventeen. I had, let’s say, an aptitude for
learning, so they sent me to Venice where I was ordained after ten years, and have been
there ever since.”
“What were your studies, aside from what was required?”
“Political Science, Holy Father.”
Again things started to take shape. “Why Political Science?”
“You know the Jesuits, they’re into everything.”
“So, I’ve been told. But I was referring to why you studied Politics.”
“I have had some ambition to work in the Vatican’s Foreign Service. Maybe, even
apply for a position in one of the Vatican’s Embassies somewhere.”
“I see. And are you going to apply?”
“It is a difficult process, Holy Father. So much red tape; so many permissions
from so many higher ups. Besides, I think they intend to send me back to Sicily.”
“How do you know?”
“One of the Monsignors has suggested it.”
“Antonio,” the Pope paused and looked intently at the handsome young priest, “is
your family Mafioso?”
Antonio squirmed. “Holy Father, everyone in Sicily has some family in the
“Angelo Gallucci,” the Pope enunciated the name with precise intention.
“Holy Father, I have done nothing wrong. And I am proud to be a Sicilian,”
Antonio said defensively.
“Calm yourself Antonio. It was merely a name. Do you know him?” It wasn’t
merely a name.
“He’s my uncle, Holy Father,” Antonio said quietly and with great trepidation.
“He’s a powerful man. Does he want you back in Palermo?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him in many years.”
“Do you think the Monsignor’s suggestion was coincidence?”
“Not really,” he said fidgeting.
The Pope got up and walked over to a wall cabinet and withdrew some papers.
“Fill these out. I am sending you on a Papal mission.” He handed the papers to Antonio.
As he read the papers he could hardly contain himself. “These papers are
assigning me to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC.”
“I am making you a Special Papal Ambassador-at-large. You will report only to
me. I will arrange that no one will question anything you do.”
“Holy Father, with all due respect, there will be many questions. What shall I
“You will say you are learning to be a politician. We cannot let your studies go in
“Your Holiness, I do not understand any of this. First, your questions scared me,
now you give me what I have always dreamed of, but never imagined possible. To go to
the United States is more than a dream come true.” Antonio fell to his knees. “I am not
worthy of this honor, Holy Father.”
Pope Francis picked him up by the shoulders. “None of us are worthy, my son.”
Antonio brushed a tear from his eye. “What do you want me to do, Holy Father?”
“I don’t know yet. You will remain here in the Vatican. Father Alfredo will make
the arrangements. Tomorrow you will have your Diplomatic Passport. You are to talk to
no one. You’re to answer no questions. Not even to your family. From now on you will
make contact with no one without my consent. I assume you take your vow of Obedience
seriously,” The Pope said, raising an eyebrow.
“I do Holy Father.”
“Good. Then you will leave for Washington day after tomorrow.”
“What should I do when I get there?”
“Before you leave I will tell you.” The Pope had no better answer. He only hoped
that he would have something to tell him.
Senator Alexander Artemis held one of the most powerful positions in Congress. As
Chairman of the Armed Services Committee he controlled the purse strings of the world's
most sophisticated Army. An Army designed to protect a Nation; but, in the end, he
couldn't even protect the life of his own daughter.
His eyes flooded with tears as he held the framed photograph of his daughter's
high school graduation picture. How beautiful she was. How young. How much he loved
her. And now that love was turning him inside-out with hate and guilt.
He had become morose and irritable, the least little thing set him off. His
colleagues tiptoed around him. He had never been late for a committee meeting, but now
it had become a continual pattern. His work in Congress had seemed so unimportant now.
He was in the throes of a deep depression, but refused to acknowledge it. Now his wife
was threatening to leave him. He felt lost in a world of confusion; life no longer held any
meaning for him. What happened? What had gone wrong? What had he done wrong?
Why couldn't he have stopped it?
He had now excluded everyone from his life, except the memory of his daughter
and the ones who were responsible for her death.
A harsh knock on the door interrupted his emotions. He dabbed at his eyes with a
handkerchief. "Come in," he called out.
His Chief of Staff, Walter Baker, walked into the office. "Senator, it's almost time
for your committee meeting."
"I'll be ready in a minute," he said shuffling some unimportant papers.
"Senator, is everything all right?" Walter asked.
Alexander Artemis wanted to scream at the top of his lungs and keep on
screaming, No! No! No!…”Walt, I said I'd be ready," he snapped.
Walter Baker just stood there and finally said, "Senator, we have a few minutes.
Can I speak with you?"
"Not now Walt."
"I'm considering resigning," he said flatly.
"Oh, for Christ sakes, not you too Walter!” he said as a wave of despair washed
over him. “First, my wife, and now you. After everything that's happened..." His words
"Alex," Walter said, sitting down his huge, six foot-four frame, "we can't stand by
and watch you ruin yourself and throw away a lifetime of accomplishment."
"So, the answer is to run away?"
"That's exactly what you're doing,” Walter said frustrated. “Running away as fast
as you can. Marian feels if she leaves you, that you might come to your senses and get
some help. And, frankly, so do I."
The Senator turned his back and stared out of the window. He wished he could
stop the pain, and the anger.
"There's talk they're going to vote you out of your Chairmanship."
"Fuck'em!" Artemis swung around, his face contorted in a twisted rage. "Let'em
try. I'll step on'em like ants!"
"That's the point, Alex. We're all just a bunch of ants to you." Walter threw a
folder on the Senator's desk. "I think you can handle this meeting by yourself." Walter
Baker turned and stomped out of the office.
Alexander Artemis dropped to his knees and cried out from the bottom of his
soul, "God, please help me!"
At that instant, the intercom came on, "Senator, there's a Father Antonio Salvi on
the line. Should I take a message?"
Father Antonio Salvi had arrived at the Vatican Embassy the night before. For the first
time in his life he felt important. Just a few days before, he was dreading the thought of
returning to Palermo and leading the life of a Parish priest. Not that it was an unimportant
job, but he loved learning, and he loved Venice. He wanted to make a difference,
contribute something to the Church, something that would be of value. And now, the
Holy Father had made it possible.
Antonio thought about his flight from Rome. The Pontiff had insisted that he fly
'First Class'. He felt as though he were being treated like royalty. The Embassy had sent a
black limousine to pick him up at the airport, and the Bishop, himself, greeted him.
Antonio quickly reminded himself that Pride was a sin. Tomorrow he would go to
But then, looking around at the beautiful quarters he had been given in the
Embassy, he said to himself, "For tonight, I will relish the feelings, after all, it is only a
Before leaving the Vatican, he had one last meeting with the Pope. He was told to
meet with a United States Senator by the name of Alexander Artemis and to give him a
message: ‘Pope Francis is ready to help you with your mission.’ He was then told never
to repeat the message to anyone, except to the Senator, which made Antonio believe that
the Holy Father and the Senator must be working together on something very important.
What Antonio couldn't figure out, however, was why the Pontiff had sent him. The only
other thing that the Pope had requested was to report the Senator's response to him
The following morning he called the Senator's office and was given an
appointment for that very afternoon. Having had experience at trying to get appointments
with higher-ups in the Church, Antonio was surprised at the ease in which he was able to
secure an immediate appointment with such an important man. And that confused
Antonio all the more, because he had not mentioned the Pope's name or the purpose of
his visit. Perhaps, the Pope had called the Senator and told him he was coming. But, if he
had called him, then why hadn't the Pope simply given the message to the Senator
A tiny fear crept into Antonio's mind. After delivering the message, would the
Pontiff order him to return to Venice, and then to Palermo? Somehow, he vowed to
himself, he had to make himself a part of this mission. He would not go back without
doing everything he could to stay. And then he remembered what the Pontiff had asked
him: "Do you take your vow of Obedience seriously". Antonio knew he had no choice in
the matter. But, he decided that he would not go easily. Tonight, he would send a
powerful prayer to God.
Antonio had been instructed by the Pope not to tell anyone what he was doing or where
he was going, so he took a taxi to the Senator's office. No one at the Embassy had asked
any questions, including the Bishop, who had been most cordial to him. Antonio figured
the Pope had made things clear to everyone. He only wished that the Pope had made
things clear to him. But he was not complaining, he was glad to be here. And whatever
will be, will be.
Father Antonio Salvi walked proudly into the Senator's office and presented
himself to a very polite elderly woman, who promptly spoke into the intercom and
announced that he, Father Antonio Salvi, had arrived.
"Send him in, Mildred," the reply came back.
Antonio straightened his jacket, adjusted his white collar and walked into the
Senator's office. The Senator was seated behind an enormous desk with folders placed in
neat stacks across the front of it.
"What can I do for you, Father…?"
"Father Antonio Salvi,” he stated. “I have a message from Pope Francis, the First,
the Pontiff in Rome."
The Senator eyed the young priest who was standing in front of him like a soldier
at attention, and then asked, "Who are you?"
"I am a Special Ambassador for the Pontiff." Antonio immediately showed him
his Diplomatic Passport.
"Is this is an official visit?" the Senator asked, not sure what to make of the young
"I would say more like a secret visit," Antonio stated, still standing stiff and erect.
"A secret visit?" the Senator asked confused.
"I was told by the Holy Father not to speak of this visit with anyone. And the
message I have been instructed to give you, under my vow of Obedience, I can not repeat
to anyone else."
"Like our Secrecy Oath?" Artemis asked, trying to understand.
"I am not familiar with your Secrecy Oath, Senator," Antonio responded.
"Well, let me understand then." The Senator rose slightly in his chair. "You have
a secret message from the Pope that can only be delivered to me, is that right?"
"That is correct, Senator," Antonio replied.
"Father Salvi," the Senator began, "I have never met your Pope. I'm not even a
Catholic. It is true that Pope Francis has been of immeasurable help in negotiating the
Bosnian/Serb Peace Agreement, and I for one, am very grateful. I have nothing but the
highest regard for your Pope, but frankly, Father, I'm a bit baffled."
"Then you're not working on something important together?" Antonio asked as
his eyes flashed confusion.
The Senator didn't miss Antonio's reaction. "As I said, I haven't had the pleasure
of meeting Pope Francis, but I certainly look forward to such a meeting."
Antonio composed himself, and got right to the point. "This is the message,
Senator: 'Pope Francis is ready to help you with your mission."
"I'm not working on any mission, except the usual Committee agendas. Are you
sure I'm the man you want to see?"
"Quite sure, Senator. Pope Francis was explicit." Antonio paused for a second not
knowing exactly what to say next. "I had assumed that you asked for the Pope's help."
Alexander Artemis shifted in his chair, and remembered the coincidence of the
phone call at the very moment he was crying out for help. And, in that split second,
without thinking, he had agreed to see Father Salvi. He had regretted the decision almost
immediately. He concluded he had made such an irrational decision because of his
emotional state of mind, and a deep feeling of desperation. Whatever the reason, he had
wanted to cancel the meeting, but didn't know how to reach Father Salvi.
"I don't know what to say. Father Salvi...I"
Father Salvi’s mind drifted off into some unknown place. A single word entered
his mind, and he uttered it to the Senator: "Drugs!"
The word stabbed hard into the pit of the Senator's stomach. Artemis jumped up
from behind his desk and screamed, " Just who in the hell are you?"
Normally, an outburst like that would have rattled the young priest. But, for some
reason, Father Salvi remained calm. "I'm here to help you, Senator," he said with a soft
The words had an immediate effect. The Senator fell backwards into his chair and
started to weep. Father Salvi walked over to the Senator and put his hands on his
shoulders, and began praying out-loud the only words that Alexander Artemis could hear,
"God will help you, Senator."
Instantly, the weeping turned into a sobbing wail that Alexander Artemis could
To Antonio, Alexander Artemis was no longer a Senator, he was now, merely, a
penitent in need, and he would not attempt to stop the painful sobbing. Crying was the
only prayer that Alexander Artemis knew how to pray.
The young Jesuit walked behind the Senator and put his hands on his shoulders
and prayed. Antonio had no idea how long he prayed as he held the sobbing Artemis.
Time was irrelevant.
Finally, the sobs began to subside as Artemis slowly began to regain his
composure. “I’ve lost everything, Father.” His voice was shaky and hoarse from the deep,
gut wrenching experience. "My wife, my friends, probably my career; but most of all the
love of my daughter."
"Love can never be lost, Senator," Antonio intoned quietly, walking around to the
front of the desk.
"My daughter is dead. Killed by filthy drugs," he said, screeching the words.
"You felt ashamed, and you covered it up. Didn't you, Senator?" Antonio had no
idea where the words were coming from. He spoke them as they formed in his mind.
The words stunned the Senator. Anger began to boil within him as he glared at the
man who had just prayed over him, but now said the most despicable thing imaginable.
"If you weren't a priest I'd hit you for saying that."
"If I weren't a priest, I wouldn't have said it."
"You think that collar allows you to say something like that to me?" he spit out
"Senator, there's an old saying, ‘The truth will set you free’."
"You give me religious clichés!" the Senator's eyes steeled at Antonio. "I think
you'd better leave."
"And I think you'd better face yourself." Antonio was startled by his own
willingness to engage this powerful man. "You asked me earlier who I was. I ask you,
now, who are you? A man? A father? Or a Senator?"
"What are you driving at?" he said, still captured within his anger.
"A father is never ashamed of his child."
"I did it to save her reputation. Can't you understand?"
"Help me to understand, Senator Artemis. Help me to understand why your soul
aches, and yet, you do nothing about it. You cry like a child. Do you think your Father in
Heaven is ashamed of you?"
"Then why did God do this to me?"
"You blame God, Senator?"
"Why did God let this happen to my daughter? She was beautiful. She never hurt
"Senator, there is an evil in the world. It is called 'Drugs'. It was drugs that killed
your daughter, and the men who sell them to children for profit." Antonio paused and
then said, "Pope Francis has sent me here to help you with your mission."
"The elimination of drugs from the face of the earth." The words were now just
spilling out. "You're a powerful man, Senator. It is a mission worthy of your daughter.
And Pope Francis is ready to help you with your mission."
The words penetrated deep into his being. Alexander Artemis could feel the
waves of emotion beginning to release within him. He looked into Father Salvi's eyes, "It
is a mission worthy of my daughter," he said softly.
"Worthy of all children, Senator. Your daughter was a victim, like so many
thousands of other children who have been the victims of drugs. Let us cry Senator, for
all the children, and the parents who have lost, as you have, their precious child."
Artemis thought for a long time before speaking. "A war on drugs!" he said
vehemently, pounding the top of his desk.
"No, Senator. Not a war. There have been too many wars."
"Father, I appreciate your sentiment, but forgive me for saying, you're young and
naive. We have already spent billions of dollars trying to stop the drug trade. The more
drug dealers we capture, the more take their place. They have armies, Father. They have
money and guns. They control the people through terror; they corrupt the politicians,
even Presidents of countries. No, Father, if we are to stop the drug trade we must have an
all-out war. Call it a 'Holy War' if you like, but nonetheless, a war!"
"Senator, there is much about me you do not know. It is true that I am young, but
far from naive. And neither is the Pontiff."
"Preaching is not going to get the job done."
"I do not believe preaching is what the Holy Father has in mind. He sent me here
to give you his message. You! Senator. Why he selected you, I don't know. But he was
very clear that this message was to be given only to you."
"What do you suggest then?" Artemis said softening his tone.
"I will speak with the Holy Father. Maybe he has some ideas. Can we meet again,
"Of course, anytime." Artemis managed a smile. "In the meantime, I will consider
other ideas, besides a war." Artemis wanted to say something more, but didn't know how,
so he just sat there feeling helpless.
"Is there something you want to ask, Senator?" Antonio inquired.
"I want to say thank you, but under the circumstances it doesn't seem adequate...
It's been a long time, Father, since I thought about God... My parents were Greek
Orthodox, they did their best to raise me in the Church, but I always thought I knew
better than the priests. I guess, maybe, I was wrong."
"Priests, too, can be wrong, Senator. Only God is right. May I suggest a prayer
now and then," Antonio said with a smile.
Antonio reported to Pope Francis when he returned to the Embassy, doing his best to
describe his meeting in detail, especially, the Senator's frame of mind.
"Did the Senator explain to you the circumstances surrounding his daughter's
death?" the Pope asked when Antonio finished.
"No, Holy Father. It didn't seem like the right time to pry. He was hurting, Your
Holiness," Antonio replied compassionately.
"I understand, my son. But when you meet with him again, Antonio, it is
imperative that we find out."
"I will do my best, Holy Father." Antonio paused and then said, "I've been having
"What kind of thoughts, Antonio?"
"When I was speaking with the Senator, the word 'Drugs' just appeared in my
mind. And later, when I left the Senator's office, the words ‘Cautious. Be cautious,
Antonio,’ came to me. What does it mean, Holy Father? Why am I here?"
Pope Francis could feel Antonio's fear and confusion. "The Angel of the Lord will
protect you, Antonio. This mission has just begun. Much will be asked of us. It will take
courage, but we have been chosen."
Antonio assumed the we referred to the Papal we. "I will meet again with the
Senator, and find out what you have requested, Holy Father."
Pope Francis wanted to repeat the same words that Antonio had been given, "Be
cautious", but thought better of it. Instead, he said, "Antonio, remember what I said to
you, 'The Angel of the Lord will protect you'."
"Yes, Your Holiness, I will remember."
Antonio hung up the phone, and suddenly started shaking. He dropped to his
knees and prayed. "Oh, God, in my foolishness and pride, I asked you to let me be a part
of this mission. I am only a simple priest. I am not trained to talk with powerful men. The
Holy Father has put his trust in me, but I am fearful he has chosen the wrong man. And
then suddenly he heard the voice of Pope Francis as clearly as if he were standing next to
him, "I will always be with you."
THE SENATOR’S OFFICE
The next day Alexander Artemis convened a meeting with his entire staff, including his
wife, who had been his Campaign Manager, and whom he considered to be one of the
most astute political observers he had ever known. Maybe, that’s why he married her.
Maybe, that’s why he stilled loved her after twenty-five years. Before anyone arrived,
Alexander went over in his mind the events of the day before.
After his meeting with Father Salvi, he had immediately left his office feeling like a great
weight had been lifted from him. He felt like a new man; a man with a purpose. He knew
what he had to do.
As he drove down the congested Washington Turnpike, he thought of all the ways
he could apologize to his wife. What could he tell her that wouldn’t sound like he had
completely gone over the edge? If he recounted what had happened during his meeting
with the young priest, Marian would never believe it. He could hardly believe it. He then
considered for a minute that he had hallucinated the whole thing. No, he could prove that
he had a meeting with Father Salvi, his secretary could testify to that fact. Still, he knew
that he couldn’t tell his wife everything that had occurred, at least, not for now. However,
he had to find a way to explain his apparent transformation. He couldn’t even explain it
to himself. All he knew was that he felt strong again. In command, like he was before.
No, that was not exactly right, not in command, in search -- In search of a way to make
his daughter’s death a victory instead of making her a victim. Father Salvi was right; it
was a mission worthy of his daughter. The young priest was also right about facing
himself; in one sentence the priest had penetrated to the awful truth: he had been more
concerned about his reputation than his daughter’s. And that fact, which he had refused to
face, had been eating at his insides like a cancer.
He then thought about Father Salvi’s phone call at the very moment he had cried
out for God’s help, and the cryptic message from a Pope he had never met. And finally,
the advice the young priest had given him, “May I suggest a prayer now and then.” And
that’s exactly what Alexander Artemis had done before entering his house to face his
At first, he sat uncomfortably not knowing how to begin. His wife, Marian, just
sat on the sofa staring at him from across the room through her piercing blue eyes, which
made him all the more nervous.
Finally, he simply said, “I love you.”
His wife didn’t move a muscle, nor did her facial expression change.
Alexander fidgeted like a high school boy. “I love you,” he repeated, and tears
started welling up in his eyes.
“You need help, Alex,” she said coldly.
“Marian, I need your help,” he said, emphasizing ‘your’.
“I’ve done everything I can do.”
“I’ll do anything that you ask, if you’ll just listen to me,” Alex pleaded.
Marian let out a deep, unenthused sigh. “All right, Alex. I’m listening.”
“I know, now, what’s been wrong with me. Why I’ve acted the way I have.” Alex
said and walked over and sat down next to his wife.
“I couldn’t face the truth.”
“And what truth is that?” she asked sarcastically.
The tears started coming again. “I’m afraid to tell you. I’m afraid you’ll hate me.”
“I don’t hate you, Alex. I can never hate you. I love you. But, I can’t live with
you anymore. You’re destroying yourself, and I will not let you destroy me as well.”
Alex dabbed at his eyes. “When Alicia died, I covered everything up. I said it was
to save her reputation, but the truth was that I was trying to save my own. My career was
more important than my daughter’s death. That’s the awful truth I couldn’t face. And that
guilt has been driving me crazy.”
“And tell me Alex, how did you come to this awful truth? You think I didn’t
know that?” she said with a fiery fierceness. “I needed you to comfort me, to hold me. To
mourn together for our daughter.”
“I’m sorry, Marian. I’m sorry for all that I have done, and for all that I should
“You still haven’t told me how you came to this remarkable revelation,” she said
“I...I saw a priest.”
“Alex. You? Saw a priest?” she said disbelieving. “I know you, Alex, you make
fun of priests.”
Alex wanted to tell her everything, but couldn’t. “It’s true. A Father Salvi from
the Vatican Embassy paid me a surprise visit. Something Pope Francis was concerned
“What was he concerned about?” she said still skeptical.
Alex had to do some real fast thinking. “It was something about the potential
break-up of NATO.”
“What about it?” she persisted.
“I’m the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I guess he was looking for
some answers. You know he’s very political,” he said trying to make some sense.
“Alex, you’re not telling me everything. I can always tell when you’re lying.”
“I can’t tell you everything, Marian. At least, not yet. You’ll have to trust me
about that. But I want you to look into my eyes,” he said staring straight into hers. “I had
a long talk with this Father Salvi, he sensed something was wrong...I guess, it’s obvious
“Well, Alex, you got that right.”
“Please, Marian, this is hard enough.”
“I’m sorry, Alex, go ahead.”
“All I can tell you is that we prayed together.”
Marian started to laugh.
Alex gently grabbed both of her arms. “We prayed Marian. I prayed! After, I felt
a huge relief...I can’t explain it...a release of my own guilt, I suppose.” Alex squeezed her
arms a little tighter. “Now, look in my eyes and tell me I’m lying.” He said as sincerely
as he knew how.
“You’re serious, aren’t you? You really did talk to this priest,” she said, softening
her voice for the first time.
Alex pulled her close, and before she knew what was happening, he kissed her as
passionately as he had ever kissed her. “I love you,” he said as he released his embrace.
Marian just stared at him. Alex felt a slight tremor coming from her body and
then he saw the tears forming in the corner of her eyes. “I love you,” he repeated gently,
and kissed her softly on the mouth. “I need you. I need to love you. I need to make right
all the things that I have done wrong.”
Marian was stunned. “Alex...I don’t know...my bags are packed,” she said, caught
between emotions.” I was just about to leave...you came home early.” She turned her
back to him.
Alex turned her around. “I’m back, for real, Marian,” he said and kissed her
Marian responded with her whole body, and held him tightly. “I’ve cried, I’ve
prayed for this, Alex.”
“From now on we’ll pray together.” Alex brushed a long curl of hair from the side
of her face, then took a handkerchief and softly wiped away the tears.
They walked upstairs holding hands, and Alex made love to her for the first time
in a year.
Afterwards, he said, “I feel like a teenager.”
Marian just smiled and cuddled in his arms.
Alexander’s office staff, his wife, and Walter Baker, who had come only because Marian
had asked him, settled around the room.
“I’m waiting for one more person,” Alex said.
Everyone looked at each other to see who was missing. No one was.
“Who?” Marian asked. She was as surprised as anyone.
Alex looked at his watch. “He should be here any minute, Darling.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when Father Antonio Salvi walked into
“Would you close the door, Father,” Alex said, “and we’ll get started.
The shock was obvious on everyone’s face, especially, Marian’s.
“I want you all to meet, Father Antonio Salvi,” Alex said enthusiastically.
Strained smiles and nods rotated around the room, except for Father Salvi, who
was beaming at everyone.
“Father Salvi is a Special Ambassador from the Vatican in Rome. It’ll become
clear, later, why I’ve invited him.”
Alex rubbed two sweaty hands together and began, “To say that I’ve made all of
your lives miserable during the past year, including my own, is putting it mildly. First, I
want to apologize to everyone, especially to my wife, and to you Walter.” Alex took a
step toward him. “You’re not only the best Chief of Staff on the Hill, but you’re my
friend. And I’m asking you to forgive me for my behavior. I need you.”
Walter looked at Marian. She smiled and nodded approvingly.
“Have I missed something here, Alex?” Walter said not knowing what else to say.
“Apparently, we all have,” Marian said.
“What’s been missing here, is Me. Well, I’m back. And I owe it to Father Salvi,
my wife, and to you, Walter, for helping me to face myself.”
Alex reached out a hand to Walter, who took it, and then gave him a hardy
handshake. Still bewildered by the astonishing turn of events, Walter was only able to
crack a small smile. Alex then walked behind his desk and stood with his hands on the
back of his chair, and looked at everyone – one at a time.
“I want everyone here to know the truth about Alicia’s death. I know there have
been rumors flying around,” Alex said waving an arm in the air. “But I want you to know
the truth, the whole truth.” Alex turned and looked at his wife and flashed her a nervous
smile. She returned it with an encouraging one. “It was the night of her graduation,” Alex
began, “Alicia and some of her classmates had arranged for a party that night – you know
– the kind of party when you’re not sure if you’ll ever see each other again... She looked
beautiful...” Alex could feel the emotions rising up inside. “What I am about to tell you is
what I’ve pieced together from police reports, other teenagers who attended the party,
and from their parents.”
Alex paused and shifted behind the chair and began again haltingly, as if trying to
remember something from the distant past; but the fact was, his memory was as clear as
if it were yesterday:
Alex was sitting on the sofa reading an article in the Washington Times about the First
Lady. Marian was snuggled next to him reading the same article over his shoulder. “The
First Lady puts her foot in her mouth again,” the caption read. The article went on to state
that a Susan Aimes, a Society news reporter, asked her what she thought about the color
of the Blue Room, and the First Lady responded, “I don’t know why they don’t paint it
Alex started chuckling, and Marian gave him a gentle whack on the shoulder,
“She was only joking, Alex. You know how those media hounds are stalking her for one
of those one-liners,” she said defensively.
“I know, but it’s funny,” Alex lied. “She reminds me of Gerald Ford, always
tripping over himself.”
“You don’t think it’s funny at all, you think she’s funny,” Marian said and jabbed
him in the ribs, which caused Alex to start laughing all the more. “She can’t help herself,
and those media vultures keep setting her up,” Marian said disgusted.
Alex calmed down. “Sweetheart, you know I like her personally, but you have to
admit, sometimes she...”
Marian just groaned. “You know you’re a real chauvinist, Alex.”
“I know, that’s why you married me,” Alex said and grabbed her trying to kiss her
neck. Marian feigned resistance, and soon they were playfully wrestling on the sofa,
“Is that anyway for an old married couple to act,” Alicia said pretending to sound
stern as she came bouncing down the staircase.
For an instant, Alex and Marian froze in place, as if they were playing “Simon
Says Freeze”. Marian immediately adjusted her clothes and tried patting her hair back
into place. “Darling, you look great in that dress,” Marian said not wanting to answer the
“A little tight, don’t you think?” Alex said and winked at his daughter.
“Oh, Daddy, I’m eighteen years old now. And, besides, haven’t you heard about
boys?” Alicia said knowing exactly how to tease her father.
“Yes, I have, and that’s what I’m afraid of,” he responded in a serious tone.
“Oh, Alex,” Marian said. “She looks beautiful.”
“That’s precisely the point, I...” Alex stopped in mid-sentence, he knew he had
been sucked in. “Yes, you look absolutely beautiful, Ally,” he said smiling.
Whenever he called her Ally, his daughter knew she had succeeded. “You really
think so, Daddy?” she said and twirled once around the room.
“Almost as beautiful as your mother,” he said. Alex felt that was worth at least
“Who’s picking you up?” Marian asked in vain, trying to stop the game.
“David is. His father’s loaning him the Buick.”
That got a rise out of her father. Alicia knew she was ahead on points.
“I don’t know why the two of you play this silly one-up’s-man-ship. You know it
usually leads to an argument between the two of you,” Marian said, annoyed at the both
“Mom, but it’s fun watching Daddy get so serious.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s funny,” Marian said.
Alex kept his mouth shut. Staying quiet was the better part of valor.
“Don’t be too late, Alicia,” her mother said just as a horn honked from outside.
“It’s David. It’s going to be a great party,” she giggled. “Promise, I won’t be too
late,” she said half-skipped out of the room toward the front door.
“And stay out of that Buick,” Alex yelled after her.
“If I do, then I can’t get to the party. Can I? Don’t wait up…Bye.”
Those were the last words that they would ever hear from their daughter as the
sound of the door slammed shut.
Alexander Artemis trembled inside as the words “Don’t wait up…Bye,” echoed in his
mind. It was almost too much for him to continue. Marian walked over to him and rubbed
his back lovingly.
Several people in the room wiped a tear away. The last year had been hell for
their boss, and they all knew why.
But, for Walter, listening to it now, made him feel guilty and ashamed he had
walked out on the one man who had hired and trusted him when he couldn’t even get a
job interview on the Hill at the time.
Alex sat down in the chair he had been using to steady himself. Marian stood next
to him with her hand on his shoulder.
“About three in the morning the Police Department called.” Alex started to choke
up, but continued, “They said six teenagers were dead from a drug over-dose, and twenty
others were hospitalized. Seems, someone had spiked the punch, or whatever they were
Alex paused to re-collect himself. A complete silence draped over the room.
Father Antonio said a silent prayer for the man who was finally beginning to grieve.
“I went down to the police station and put a clamp on everything. Of course,
everyone cooperated. I asked all the parents to let me handle it; I said it was our
children’s reputation that must be protected. They all agreed, including the surviving
teenagers. The newspaper reported only that six teenagers had died in an unfortunate
automobile accident; the other teenagers were never mentioned. I covered it all up, very
neatly. Police records, coroner reports, hospital records; yeah, they all cooperated all
right, including the parents.” The words started coming harder now. “Yes, I did care
about my daughter’s reputation; but the truth is, at that moment, I cared more about my
own reputation and the shame I felt.” Alex just sat there, shaking his head.
No one in the room said a word. There were no words to say.
“Why don’t we take a five minute break,” Marian said, not feeling very steady
“Walter, would you and Father Salvi please stay?” Alex asked.
After everyone left, Walter went over and put his huge arms around both Alex
and Marian. The three of them had been through thick and thin, and now, to hell and
back. As they slowly broke their embrace, Alex glanced over at Father Salvi who had
been sitting quietly on the sofa. “Oh, Father,” Alex said, “please forgive us, this reunion
has been a long time coming.”
“On the contrary, I feel very privileged to have witnessed it,” Antonio said
Walter walked over to the priest, “I haven’t introduced myself properly. I’m
Walter Baker, Alex’s Chief of Staff. I’m grateful for whatever part you’ve played in
bringing Alex back to us.”
“Senator Artemis brought himself back,” Antonio replied, matter-of-factly, as
they shook hands.
Marian chimed in, “This is all so awkward, Father. I, too, am grateful. But...” she
continued with a puzzled look on her face, “you’re like a mystery man, appearing,
seemingly from out of no where. I have a thousand questions.”
Alex interrupted, “Sweetheart, they’ll all be answered,” he said rubbing the small
of her back, and then added to himself, “I hope.”
Marian and Walter just looked at each other and then at Alex.
“Before the staff comes back, there’s something you should know. I’ve decided to
run for the Presidency,” Alex stated calmly.
Walter and Marian’s mouth dropped open in unison. The shock of hearing Alex’s
pronouncement registered on their faces like someone who had just witnessed a train
wreak. Marian blurted out before Walter could say the same thing, “Alex, you said, and I
quote, ‘If I ever entertain any thoughts about running for the Presidency, please have me
committed to an insane asylum’, end of quote.” The incredulity in her voice was obvious.
Walter fell backwards onto a wooden framed chair, his huge bulk nearly
collapsing it. He put his hands on his head, and his head between his legs, and let out a
loud moan, “Marian. Marian,” he said, pleading for help.
Marian re-gathered herself. “Walter, now, let’s not jump to any conclusions,” she
said after studying her husband’s face. His calm, firm voice and his body language
conveyed a seriousness that she had seen only once before – the first time he had
announced his candidacy for the US Senate. His tone and manner were exactly the same.
The possibility scared and excited her all at the same time. She held her husband’s
shoulders and stared intently into his eyes, “You can’t be serious?”
“Serious as a heart attack,” he said smiling like Cheshire cat.
“What’s up, Alex? What’s going on behind those beady, brown eyes?” she
“I’ve been given a mission, Marian,” Alex said changing the tone of his voice so
that his words would not be mistaken.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Walter said still in a state of disbelief. “Forgive
me, Alex, but are you okay?”
Marian promptly came to his defense, “I’ve seen this look before. He’s serious all
right, Walter,” she said still holding her husband’s gaze.
“I am,” he said to her softly.
Marian wrapped her arm around her husband’s arm and then led him to a small
sofa and sat him down. “So, what do you want us to do?” she asked; now changing roles
from wife to Campaign Manager.
“I’m not sure,” Alex said.
“Well, you must have thought about it. Do you have a strategy in mind?”
“I have a mission,” he repeated enigmatically.
Hearing that, Marian sat down next to him. She began feeling confused and
worried, and it scared her.
Walter came to life, “Alex, do you want to be President, or are you on a mission?”
he asked not understanding any of it.
“I know one thing, I don’t want to be President,” Alex said, confounding Marian
and Walter all the more. “I intend to stop the Drug-Trade. Not only here, but all over the
world. I want to save the children. Alicia’s death will not be meaningless,” he said
emphatically. “Our campaign platform will be a single issue: End the illegal drug-trade
on a global scale. Running for the Presidency will give me the perfect forum. The rest, I
don’t know,” he said looking quizzically at Father Salvi.
Antonio wanted to help, but his vow would not let him repeat the Pope’s message.
“Whose idea is this, anyway?” Walter asked.
“I don’t really know,” Alex replied honestly. “All I know, is that my life has
changed since I met Father Salvi...Maybe,” Alex said addressing the young priest, “you
can explain it?”
“I’m sorry, Senator, I was only told to deliver the Pope’s message to you. I don’t
know anymore than that.”
“Did this message,” Walter cut in, “say that the Senator was to stop drugs all over
Alex stepped in. “No, his message was simply that he was ready to support me in
“This is too weird for words,” Walter said shaking his head.
“No!” Marian said with purpose, “Alex is right. The Drug issue must be
addressed. And, Alex’s running for the Presidency will give him the perfect forum.”
Alex looked at his wife and felt a love for her that was close to ecstatic. He heard
the same confident tone in her voice as he did, twenty-five years before, when he had
announced his decision to run for the US Senate. And, it was on that day, at that moment,
he had fallen completely in love with her.
“You’ll have to give up your Senate seat,” Walter said, hoping it would make a
“My Senate seat is not important.” Alex cleared his throat and then asked, “Father
Salvi, I would like you to join our team, that is, if you are willing?”
“I came only to deliver a message, Senator.”
“I know, I know,” Alex said, “but Pope Francis’ message said he was ready to
support me in my mission.”
I will ask the Pontiff when I speak with him tonight,” Antonio said, “but he may
have other plans for me.”
“I’ll call and ask him, myself,” Alex said sharply.
“Now, hold on, Alex,” Walter interrupted, “I know you feel grateful to Father
Salvi, but this is Politics.”
“No, Walter, this is a mission.”
There was silence in the room.
Marian would have normally echoed Walter’s words, but instead, she stood
thoughtfully looking out the window at soft, silky clouds etched into a blue, September
sky that overlooked Pennsylvania Avenue. Something was different, she knew it, but she
couldn’t put her finger on it. She turned back to Alex, who was waiting patiently, as he
usually did, for her advice. She smiled at him, and then asked the young Jesuit, “Father,
do you have any political experience?”
“I have a Doctorate in Political Science,” he stated proudly.
Marian nodded her head; Walter moaned and rubbed the back of his neck; and
Alex just smiled.
“Well,” Marian said, “I think Father Salvi would make an excellent addition to
the team, if he gets permission.” She then asked, “ Father, would you like to be in
“If it’s the Pontiff’s will, I would be privileged to help the Senator with his
mission,” Antonio said feeling excited at the prospect. But then said with a note of
concern, “Senator, it would be better if I ask the Pontiff myself.”
“Alright,” Alex conceded, “but I’m not going to give up easily. If Pope Francis is
serious about helping, then I’m sure he’ll agree.”
“There are many ways of helping, Senator,” Antonio said.
Antonio pressed the numbers to the Pontiff’s private telephone, and waited patiently as
the overseas numbers clicked into place. He checked his watch it would be ten o’clock at
night in Rome. Antonio hoped fervently that Pope Francis was not asleep, or worse,
praying. The thought made him feel anxious as he listened to the sound of the phone
Finally, “Si.” The voice sounded tired.
“Holy Father, it’s me, Antonio.”
“Ah, Antonio, I have been thinking about you.” The Pope’s voice came awake.
“I hope it’s not too late for Your Holiness?” he asked nervously.
“No, no, my son. I want to hear every detail.”
Antonio described, as best he could, his meeting at the Senator’s office.
“I see.” Pope Francis said and then went quiet for a moment. “Antonio, I want
you to ask the Senator if he knows a man by the name of Michael Brand. If he does, tell
the Senator that he must get in touch with him immediately. This man, Michael Brand,
will be indispensable to the success of the mission.” The Pope paused again. “And then,
Antonio, I want you to catch the next plane back to Rome. Come to the rear of the
Vatican, the guards will let you in, use the private elevator and come to my quarters.”
Antonio’s heart sank. “What about the Senator and his request,” Antonio asked
“I have another assignment for you, Antonio.” The Pope had heard the
disappointment in Antonio’s voice. “Then we’ll discuss your involvement with the
Artemis Campaign,” he said evenly.
“Can I ask where I am to go?”
“You can not,” the Pope said emphatically. “When you arrive in Rome, you are to
come to my quarters immediately, regardless of the time. Understand?”
“Yes, Holy Father, I understand,” Antonio replied quietly.
Antonio held the phone in his hand long after the line went silent. The day’s
excitement drained from his body. He tried, however, to take some small solace in the
fact that the Pope, actually, hadn’t said no to his working with the Senator.
Strangely, without any conscious effort, Antonio’s mind began to flood with
questions that cascaded out: What was really going on? Why had he been sworn to
secrecy? Why had the Pope wanted him to meet with a man, that even the Pope, himself,
did not know? What was the true meaning of this strange message that he had been
ordered to deliver, and to such a powerful man at that? And more importantly, why had
he been chosen to be the Holy Father’s personal emissary?
Antonio carefully replaced the receiver into its cradle, and then suddenly, felt a
shiver of fear.
After talking with Antonio, Pope Francis walked slowly into his private chapel. He
couldn’t tell Antonio that the Senator had been right when he wanted to call his mission a
Holy War. There was going to be much blood shed; both the innocent and the guilty
would be slaughtered. He dropped to his knees, clasping the rosary tightly in his hands,
and wept bitterly. He then prayed that the end would come swiftly.
Before leaving for the airport, Antonio placed a call to Senator Artemis. “Senator,”
Antonio began, “I have spoken with the Pontiff, and I am to return to the Vatican
immediately. He has another assignment for me.”
“Did you explain to the Pope that I need your help?” the Senator asked
“Yes, Senator, I did. He also instructed me to ask you if you know a man by the
name of Michael Brand?”
Alex thought for a moment, trying to place the name. “Yes. I met him once, about
two years ago. He’s a political consultant. But, tell me, Father, how does the Pope know
such a man like this?”
“I don’t think he does, Senator. But he said that this man would be indispensable
to your mission.”
“I’ll call him,” Alex said reluctantly.
“The Holy Father said it was urgent,” Antonio said emphasizing the Pope’s
“I’ll call him right after I hang up. Okay? Now, what about you helping me?”
“The Pope said we would discuss it after my next assignment.”
“I’ll call him,” Alex said adamantly.
“Please, Senator, do not call him,” Antonio pleaded. “I’ll be in touch with you
after I complete my new assignment.”
“I told you, I’m not going to give up easily.”
“Thank you, Senator, but if it’s meant to be, it will be. You must get in touch with
this Michael Brand. He will help you.”
“Alright, Father.” Alex let out a long sigh. “Oh, and Father, thank you for
everything. And thank Pope Francis for sending you, and his message,” Alex said
genuinely. “I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other soon.”
Marian walked into Alex’s office with an armful of files, followed by Walter Baker
carrying a similar load. “I think these are all the files from the last campaign,” Marian
said as she and Walter dropped the stacks of folders on the coffee table.
Alex ignored the files. “Good, I’m glad both of you are here. Walter, get me
Michael Brand’s phone number,” he ordered.
“You mean that sleazy political hack that swaggers around like he knows
something that the rest of us dummies are supposed to be too stupid to understand?”
Walter said disgusted at the thought.
“Why do you want to talk to him?” Marian asked puzzled.
“You wouldn’t believe it, if I told you.”
“Try me,” she said.
“Yeah, I’d like to know, too,” Walter added.
Alex leaned back in his chair. “I just talked with Father Salvi, he’s leaving for the
“Good,” Walter said.
Alex frowned at him. “You know, Walter, sometimes you should give people the
benefit of the doubt. I remember when I first met you...”
Walter stopped him with a wave of his arm. “Alright, Senator, I get the picture,”
he said not wanting to be reminded of how no one would even talk to him when he first
came to the Hill.
“What’s Father Salvi’s going home have to do with calling this Brand character?”
Marian asked. “Or, did I miss something?”
“As I was saying, before Walter went sideways...” Alex took a deep breath. “It
seems that Pope Francis had another message for me. This Michael Brand, according to
Pope Francis, is supposed to be indispensable in helping me with my mission. And I’m to
get in touch with him immediately.”
“You’re right, I don’t believe it,” Marian said and collapsed onto the sofa.
“Who’s running this thing anyway? You, us, the Pope, Father Salvi?” Walter
“I know this all sounds nutty. Messages from a Pope I never met, a request to
meet with a man I can’t stand. But,” Alex said pointedly, “you have to admit that his
message about a mission brought me back from certain disaster. And,” Alex continued
thoughtfully, “you know that I can’t let Alicia’s death...” Alex caught himself. “I mean,
for Christ sakes, there are young people out there,” Alex said pointing out the window,
“dying every day from drugs, while we go on with business as usual. Every politician on
the Hill, including the President, has closed his or her eyes to the truth. No! I can’t let
drugs and drug dealers keep on taking innocent lives. Marian, I know, I can do something
about it, and I will. And if this Michael Brand can help, then I need him...Now, please
Walter, go get his number,” Alex ended softly.
“Alright, you’re the boss. Let me check my in my office, and I’ll get right back to
you,” Walter said and left the room.
Marian, feeling confused again, just stared at her husband. She didn’t know if he
was going crazy, or just obsessed. Whatever it was she was going to find out which.
“Alex, you know I love you...”
“Marian,” Alex interrupted her gently, “whenever you start that way, I know
what’s coming. I know, you’ve got to be thinking I’ve lost my mind, but right now, I
need you to believe in me, trust me, like you used to. I’m asking you to believe in me
again. I can’t do this without you,” Alex pleaded.
Marian could feel her husband’s pain and anger as he spoke. Maybe, it was really
her own hurt and anger that she had to deal with. Maybe, Alex was the only sane person
around with enough guts to do something about these awful drugs that took her
daughter’s life, and left her with an unending pain.
Alex walked over to her and sat down next to her and put his arms around her.
She had started to cry without even knowing it.
“We’ve got to do this, Marian,” he said lovingly, wiping the tears away gently
with his fingers. “You know we do…for ourselves, for Alicia, for all the kids out there.
How many more young, innocent lives are we going to lose before someone does
“It seems so impossible, Alex. What can we really do? Maybe, we can put a
crimp into the drug trade, for a while. But, in the end, it’ll just keep on going. They’re too
powerful, Alex. They’ve got too much money, too much power, and too many guns. If
you start closing in on them, they’ll kill you. I can’t lose...” Marian couldn’t say the
words, and her tears just wouldn’t stop.
Walter walked in, and then immediately walked out without saying a word,
leaving Michael Brand’s number on the desk.
“We’ve got resources, Marian,” Alex said, trying to calm her fears. “I’ve got
access to the Army, Navy, Air Force, hell, I’ve got a whole damn Marine Corp.”
“You’re going to start a war, Alex,” she said through her tears.
“Your damn right, I am.”
“And what about all the young lives that will be lost fighting your war?”
Alex had no answer. Even if he had, it wasn’t the right time. So, he just held her
as she clung to him, weeping.
WALTER REED ARMY HOSPITAL
Alexander Artemis knocked softly, and then opened the door. A rush of light from the
corridor splashed into the dimly lit room as Alex stood in the doorway. A small cot,
hidden in the shadows, was tucked away in one corner of the room. At first, Alex couldn't
tell if anyone was there, and then he heard, "Leave me alone." The voice, muffled
through a pillow, sounded old and throaty. The crumpled figure that had been rolled into
a fetal position squirmed into an even tighter ball, and dug his head deeper under the
"Michael...Michael Brand?" Alex asked softly.
"Go away." The words were barely audible.
Alex looked around the room. It was empty, except for the cot. There was nothing
in the room. No chairs, no mirror, just the cot and the hard linoleum floor. Alex could
make out the outline of bars silhouetted against the tightly, drawn shade. It was more like
a prison cell that a hospital room.
"Michael, it's Alexander Artemis. I'd like to talk to you."
After a long minute, Brand removed the pillow from over his head and slowly
turned his face toward Alex, and at the same time, shielded his eyes from the light with
his arm. "What do you want? How did you find me?" the words came out raspy.
"It wasn't easy. You have very protective friends."
"Look," Brand said speaking with obvious difficulty.
By the sound, Alex surmised that his speaking was also painful.
"I think you can see that this is not a good time for a political conversation,"
"It's good to see that you haven't lost your sense of humor."
"Well, that's all I have left. Now, if you don't mind, close the door on your way
out," Brand said and rolled over and put the pillow back over his head.
Alex closed the door, and walked over to the window and raised the shade just
enough to see clearly in the darkened room. He then went over to Brand and took the
pillow from his face and held it away as Brand struggled to reach for it. "I said I want to
talk," Alex said firmly.
"Call a talk show. Now give me back my pillow, and get outt'a here."
"I know what happened," Alex said.
"Good for you," Brand said, gripping at his throat from the pain.
"I'll be back in a minute," Alex said and left the room.
Alex walked down the hospital corridor until he came to the nurse's station, which
was barricaded behind a wire-meshed, glass window. Alex knocked on the window until
he got the attention of one of the nurses. She slid the window back revealing a small
crack. "I want to see Doctor Raymond. Could you please call him for me?" Alex asked.
The duty nurse nodded and picked up a phone and spoke into it. "He'll be here in
a minute," she said indifferently, and closed the wire-meshed glass, and returned to the
other side of the nurse's station which had no windows, and faced out onto a pleasant
looking ward with flowers and people walking by.
In less than a minute, Dr. Raymond appeared, and inserted a key into a thick wire-
meshed, glass door that guarded the ward. "I'm sorry for this, Senator, but we thought it
was best to keep him here under a suicide watch."
"I understand, Doctor, but I need a favor. It's obvious that Brand is having a lot of
pain speaking, can you give him something that will ease the pain. It's absolutely
essential that I speak with him, now,"
"It's just minor bruising from the tubing when we pumped his stomach. Here,
have him suck on a couple of these, and he should be fine in a minute or so," Raymond
said as he handed Alex two lozenges.
"Thanks, Doctor. By the way, how long does he have to remain here?"
"Until I say he can leave. I have to be certain he's all right. Letting an attempted
suicide patient out early is always risky business. I'm sure you understand, Senator."
"Right, Doctor. I'm sure he'll be fine in a day or two. Under the circumstances his
actions are -- let's say -- understandable."
Raymond nodded his agreement. "When you're ready to leave, Senator, just push
that red button next to the door...Oh, and Senator, give my regards to General Radcliff
when you see him. Tell him I said to say hello to Ratzo, he'll understand."
Alex smiled and walked back to Brand's room. Brand had returned to his fetal
position. Alex tore the pillow away and turned Brand over. "Here suck on these, you'll
feel better," Alex said sternly. "We need to talk."
Brand started to throw the lozenges, Alex grabbed him by the wrist, "I'll shove'em
down your throat if I have to," Alex warned.
"Who in the hell did you say you were?" Brand asked trying to focus his eyes.
Brand popped both lozenges in his mouth, and tried to steady himself on one
elbow. "Senator, so nice to see you again," he said almost spitting out the lozenges. "Not
one of my better days."
"I have had a few days myself."
"I hope not like this," Brand said, his throat was beginning to feel better. "What's
in this stuff? Tastes good, too...Well, what can I do for you, Senator?" Brand asked and
shoved a handful of fingers through his matted hair.
"Fill in the details for me. Why the suicide?"
"I thought you were a Senator, not a shrink."
"Look, I know the basic story. I'll tell you what I know, and then you tell me what
you know. Fair enough?"
"You're the Doctor," Brand said and tried to shrug one shoulder.
"What I know is that your seventeen year old son died Friday night from a drug
overdose, and on Sunday you tried to kill yourself by also taking a drug overdose. Your
ex-wife found you lying on the bathroom floor and called the ambulance. She was smart
enough to have you brought here. Seems you have some army connections..."
Michael Brand just stared off into space.
"On the surface it appears obvious why you tried to commit suicide. I almost tried
it myself once. What I want to know is, how your son got the stuff?"
Brand just kept staring off into nothingness. He finally fell back onto the cot and
stared at the ceiling.
Alex saw the look on his face and began to feel guilty. He chided himself for his
insensitive approach. Here's a man who just tried to kill himself because he lost his son,
and he was rattling it off like reading some kind of a supermarket gossip tabloid. "I'm
sorry," Alex said. “It should have been obvious. I was callous and presumptuous." Alex
had been caught off guard by Brand's seeming wittiness, which he used, expertly, like a
"Don't presume anything, Senator. Nothing is obvious," Brand said quietly and
rolled away from Alex, inching closer to the wall. Within seconds, Brand's body began to
shudder, and muted sobs came through the rumpled pillow.
Alex, very tentatively, reached out his hand toward Brand, ambivalent whether he
should touch him. He desperately wanted to help Brand relieve his pain as Father Salvi
had done for him. Alex's hand hovered, frozen above Brand's shoulder, and then
deciding, he moved it the final inches and touched him sympathetically. With that,
Brand's body began to shake uncontrollably. Alex knew the feeling, but felt helpless. He
wanted to hold him, father to father; he wanted to cry with him for the loss of their
children. Remembering how the young priest prayed over him as he wept, so, he too,
prayed, but silently. He prayed the words from his heart that came from his soul.
Alex didn't know how much time had passed, nor did he care. He was only aware
of another man's pain, and he understood that Brand had to grieve. He was impressed that
Brand could do what he had been unable to do for so long: let his emotions go.
A small naked, yellow bulb, perched high on the wall, slowly began to glow. Alex
hadn't realized that day had slipped into night. The yellow light recast the green walls
into a putrid ocher, highlighting hideous looking dark blotches of stains.
Brand spoke, breaking the silence and Alex's thoughts, "You've been here a long
time, Senator. Why?" he asked somberly.
"Why not?" Alex answered.
"Because, I'm not worth it."
"No one is worth it," Alex said echoing Father Salvi's sentiment.
Alex was struck with how universal pain and grief were. We believe we are all so
different, but in the end, we're all alike Alex thought.
"I don't think you understand, Senator. My son got the drugs from me. I killed
him," Brand said sullenly…“He was innocent. He was raised by his mother to be a good
boy, but he wanted to be like me."
For some reason, which Alex couldn't fathom, he had no reaction to Brand's
confession. He simply asked, "And what kind of man are you?"
"You don't want to know."
"It may come as a surprise to you, but I really do."
Brand rolled over and faced Alex. "What are you doing here? We hardly know
each other. And the last I heard, you thought I was a sleazy bastard," Brand said very
Alex ignored the assertion. "Tell me about your son, and how it happened."
"Why do you want to know, and why do you care?"
"I lost my own daughter to a drug overdose. I want to make sure that it doesn't
happen to other innocent kids. Would you, please, tell me how it happened?" Alex asked
without any judgment.
Brand stared at Alex for a long time. "For what it's worth," Brand replied falling
back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling again. "My son, his name is also
"It still is," Alex interrupted, not knowing where the words came from.
Brand gripped Alex's wrist hard, and searched the Senator's face, "You think you
know something," Brand said, his voice filled with anger.
"All I can tell you is that, I still feel very connected to Alicia. And I always will."
Brand released his grip and said thoughtfully," I, too, feel connected, which
makes the pain even worse."
"Did you give, Michael, the drugs?"
After another long silence, "Michael was at my house, he came one weekend a
month. I was at a fundraiser. I don't know how, but he found the cocaine. He had no idea
of what he was doing. He took too much. He then, must have gone into my liquor cabinet
and started drinking Bourbon. The combination killed him." Brand paused and let out a
long sigh. "If it was good enough for me, then it was good enough for him. He wanted to
be like me."
"It was an accident."
"Accident!" Brand roared with raw emotion. "I killed him as sure as if I had given
him the stuff myself."
"You'll probably feel guilty the rest of your life," Alex said compassionately. "But
you can do something about it."
"You can help me stop these drugs, and the dealers, who kill our children.
"I can't even help myself," Brand said sounding pathetic.
"You have a choice, as I did." Alex said, "Remain in your guilt and shame, or join
with me in a mission."
"Yes, a mission. A mission that..." Alex hesitated, "...that Pope Francis gave me,"
Alex said with great reticence, not really knowing who's mission or idea it truly was.
"How do you know the Pope?"
"I don't. Look, right now, this is too complicated to explain. I can only tell you
this: a Father Salvi, from the Vatican, came to my office with a message from the Pope.
He said that I should get in touch with you immediately. He also said that you would be
an indispensable part of this mission."
"Senator, you've only succeeded in confusing me more. I don't know the Pope,
and I'm sure he's never heard of me. So, how can you tell me he said I would be
indispensable to a mission? Forgive me, Senator, but I think we should order a cot for
you and put it right next to me."
"I admit, I don't understand it myself. But the Pope promised me his full support
if I take on this mission."
"And he said you needed my help?"
"Believe me, if he hadn't, do you think I'd be here?"
"Tell me again about this mission?"
"I’m going to stop the drug trade -- all over the world."
Brand started to laugh. "You really need to spend sometime with Doctor
"I'm going to run for the Presidency. It's the platform I need to communicate just
how bad the drug situation is."
"You think people don't know that," Brand said incredulously. "Besides, the
problem's bigger than you can imagine. A couple of speeches isn't going to stop
"A war, Senator. A bloody war!"
"Maybe, a Holy War."
The two men just sat and looked at one another, each in his own thoughts.
"Why do you think," Alex asked, "that the Pope would send me to you?"
Brand shrugged his shoulders.
"You know something about the drug trade, don't you? Alex said. "In fact, I bet,
you know a lot."
"More than I want to know."
"Are you, or have you been involved in drug trafficking?"
"Never. But I have been involved with men…some of which are the most
powerful Drug Lords in the world."
"Why? And how?"
"Jesus, Senator! How do think I raise all that money -- from the good citizens, or
the Community Chest?"
"Do your clients know?"
"Senator, do you know where your campaign contributions come from?"
"I think so."
"Think again. There are literally thousands of PACs (Political Action
Committees) in this country that contribute millions of dollars to further their own
interests. It's also perfect for laundering money. And, it buys a lot of favors."
Of course it does, Alex conceded to himself.
"What I know about the drug trade, I could never tell anyway. They'd wipe out
my entire family."
It was now Alex's turn to think. "In spite of the fact that you've got a reputation as
a scum-bag, some say you're a brilliant political consultant and analyst."
"An insult and a compliment, all in one sentence," Brand commented and
attempted a smile. "So, Senator, I ask you again, what can I do for you?"
"You can run my campaign."
Brand began laughing again until the rawness of his throat started him to choke in
pain. His laughter whimpered into a cough. "Senator, for starters, politically we're on
opposite sides. Second, your wife would probably shoot the both of us. Third, the media
would have a field day, and kill your campaign before it got off the ground."
"You're right about one thing, Marian probably would shoot me. But, as I said,
I'm on a mission. Anyway, I'm not interested in becoming President. I'm interested in
stopping the drug trade."
"Well, good luck, Senator."
Alex was stumped. "I wonder why the Pope would send me to a man like you?"
Alex said out loud.
"You got me," Brand said.
"What if the Pope asked you?"
"I don't know."
"What if your son, Michael, asked you?"
"And you call me a scum-bag?"
"You're right, I'm sorry, that was a low blow," Alex said sheepishly and tried
again. "Let's play 'What If'’ for a minute. What if you were a consultant to the campaign?
And what if your primary duties were to raise money? And what if you went about it in
the same way you've always done...I mean, with the drug money part of it..."
Brand interrupted, "I and my entire family would be dead in a minute, here, and in
"Colombia?" Alex filed it away. "Never mind that for now. The idea is simple:
I'm out there running as a single issue candidate against drugs, while you're getting
campaign contributions from drug dealers. You keep records showing that I've received
money from the drug cartels, and you promise them to use it against me if the drug issue
becomes too sensitive. That should make them feel safe. And, after all, they know how
you make your living -- you're a consultant and a fundraiser. The irony of it will appeal to
Brand stroked his chin, which had a two-day growth of beard, "Might work. But
"Then...Then, I don't know," Alex said and started pacing around the small dimly
As the 747 swooped down into it's final landing pattern, Father Antonio looked out over
the city of Rome, it's lights shimmered like jewels set into a royal crown of seven
diadems against a black, velvet night. Others on the plane may have merely viewed the
beauty of Rome, but Father Antonio saw the Holy Roman Empire, headed by the most
powerful religious leader in the world, Pope Francis.
During the drive to the Vatican, through the sounds of horns blaring and taxi
drivers yelling a cacophony of Italian insults, Antonio wondered how many other
innocent children had been the victims of drugs; many he thought. And how many more
he asked himself? Stopping the drugs, that infested a world, seemed like such an
impossible mission. The men behind the drug trade were merciless; they would kill to
protect just a small portion of their territory. Imagine, a total assault on their most
profitable, and Antonio added to himself, evil business. The repercussions would be
catastrophic. Why had the Pope decided to take on such a mission? He resolved to ask
the Pope just that question, and also, about the role he was to play.
The black limousine scaled the narrow streets that led to the rear of the Vatican.
After identifying himself to the guards, he was shown to a door that led to the Pope's
As he knocked on the door of the Pope's quarters, Antonio checked his watch. It
was after eleven. He waited for what seemed to be an eternity before the door opened,
and Pope Francis greeted him. "I hope I'm not disturbing Your Holiness at such an hour.
"I know what I said, Antonio," the Pope interrupted him quietly, and then grabbed
him by the arm. "Please, come in, there is much we have to discuss."
The Pope ushered Antonio in and sat him down in a chair next to small desk.
"Holy Father," Antonio said, "I have many questions."
"They will all be answered, my son. But first you will listen, "the Pope replied.
Antonio could feel the Pope's tension as he spoke.
"There is a deadly plague in the world, Antonio. It has spread through every
corner of the earth. I have been given a mission from Heaven to stop this plague. I was
also given four names that will help me carry out this mission. Three names I'm sure you
"You mean myself, Holy Father?" Antonio asked as fear started seeping into his
body, "And the Senator, and the man's name you gave me to ask the Senator about?"
"Yes, Antonio. The fourth name is your uncle's, Angelo Gallucci."
At first, Antonio went stiff with fright, then his body melted and slipped to the
floor onto his knees, "Forgive me, Holy Father, but Heaven must choose another. I
cannot do this thing," Antonio said with his head bowed before the Pontiff. "My uncle is
a powerful man, it will cause great trouble for my family. Maybe even death."
"Antonio, Heaven does not make mistakes," the Pope said sternly. "Of course, we
are always free to choose. You may go back to Venice, and I will go to Palermo myself."
"Holy Father, you can't do that," Antonio pleaded.
"Why? Does he have so little regard for the Holy Mother the Church?"
Antonio didn't know the answer, but his heart and mind surged with a feeling of
protectiveness for Pope Francis. "I have taken a vow of Obedience, and if it is the Holy
Father's wish that I go. I will."
Pope Francis put his hands on Antonio's head, "We are all fearful, my son. But
Heaven will not continue to let its children be enslaved and murdered. The Angel of
Death has appeared to me with a message which you are to deliver to your uncle, Angelo
Antonio shuddered again at the thought of him delivering any message to the
Capo di Capo. "What is the message, Holy Father?"
"You are to say to your uncle that unless he stops his part of the drug trade, and
agree to become part of this mission, the Angel of Death will visit his first-born."
The words struck Antonio like lightening, sending shock waves of terror through
body as he slid almost prone on the floor. "Is there no other way, Holy Father?” He
begged. “He has such a great love for his daughter, as I do, she is my cousin. She is
young and innocent, Holy Father. It would send my uncle into a rage that Heaven, itself,
might not be able to stop."
"Sit up, Antonio, let us talk," Pope Francis said with kindness, and helped
Antonio into a chair. "Antonio, life is a complicated matter."
"But, Holy Father, Jesus said that God is a God of Mercy."