Wacky Wednesday – “Il Papa”

19 Sep

The classroom was calm. The quiet was only disturbed by the sound of nibs scratching on paper and birds chirping in the cyprus trees outside the open window. A warm breeze wafted through and tousled the glossy hair of an eight-year-old boy, who sat with one hand supporting his nodding head and the other doodling pointlessly on his page. He sighed as he looked out the window at the glorious Tuscan afternoon, and longed to be with his papa, running through that bright green grass and flying the kite they had built together the night before. Dio mio, he thought, please let this end! He looked at the huge crucifix mounted above the chalkboard. He clasped his hands together and shut his eyes tight, praying with all his might that when he looked at the clock, Gesù Christo would have performed a miracle.

A ringing slap of wood on wood tore the boy rudely from his reverie. He jumped, yelping in fright, and was suddenly face-to-face with his ruler-wielding schoolmaster.

Salve, Tito! Praying again, are we?” The man’s breath stank of coffee. “You would have this classroom become a chapel, no? You would have us all forget our studies, and join you in your pious mumbling! Well, certe, I know what to do.”

Tito watched in horror as his maestro strode to the front of the class, placed the ruler on his desk, pulled out his chair, and climbed atop it. All the children’s eyes were fixed on him as he reached up and clasped the crucifix in his hand. A girl gave a mousey squeak as he ripped it from the wall. He brandished it before his chest, pointing straight at the trembling Tito, and said, “I hope you will remember the lesson I am about to teach you.”

With a grunt he swung the cross down and smashed it against his desk. Several children screamed in surprise as bits of wood and plaster flew through the air. He exhaled sharply, brushed his hair away from his face, and sat down again. “I trust,” he said, still looking unswervingly at Tito, “there will be no more distractions. Ritorno al lavoro, tutti!

The air was filled again with the sound of pencils scratching away. All except Tito returned immediately to their math problem. He slumped in his chair, his eyes locked on the pieces of shattered wood still laying on the maestro‘s desk. He felt a lump in his throat and hot tears welling in his eyes. Even from his seat, he could see the tiny sculpted face of the Saviour, split in half by the force of his fall. Gesù Christo looked so very sad, and to Tito it was just like looking into a mirror.

**

Sixty years later, Tito sat uncomfortably on a gilded throne and adjusted his rosary between a thumb and forefinger. Suoi cardinali surrounded him like a flock of aged birds, bright and lavish in their crimson robes. Tito offered his hand to a middle-aged woman with tears in her eyes, who kissed his ring and asked him to bless her family. Tito smiled tiredly, waved his hand, and muttered in Latin. The gratitude on her face touched his heart, and Tito said a silent prayer of thanks for the chance to grant such joy with so little effort.

He looked out at the massive throng gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and breathed a worn-out sigh. He was an old man, and his stamina was not what it used to be. He ran in fields with his papa no longer. As more and more of the faithful came through, Tito did his best to show them equal love and patience. His noble office required tireless service, and if he had to forget his weariness to see the light on just one more face, he would do it with a glad heart.

An elderly man approached the dais, his tottering gait supported by a young woman. Tito felt inspired by his effort, as the man was older even than he. He extended a hand, and said, “Buonasera, my son. You have come far, and waited long. What service may the Holy See bestow upon you?”

The wrinkled old man looked up through rheumy eyes at Tito, and parted his slackened lips to say, “Only the chance to gaze upon you once, Beatissimo Padre, before I die.”

Tito did not reply. He was frozen in shock, the carved beads of his rosary slipping through his fingers to clatter on the marble. In the face of this ancient man, he saw his maestro from a lifetime ago. His surprise at seeing the man still alive was only matched by his confusion. This could not be the same man. Could it?

Tito whispered, “Why are you here?”

The maestro looked pleadingly up at him, not understanding. His eyes laboured to focus on Tito’s, and then recognition spread across him like the turning of a page. A rattling wheeze escaped his throat, and his wrinkled face was a mask of emotion.

“…Tito?”

The Holy Father stood suddenly, to the alarm of his cardinals, and stepped off his golden throne. He grasped the old man by the shoulders, and pulled him close in a tight embrace. The piazza was eerily silent, the huge crowd transfixed by what they saw. Somewhere in the assembly, someone began to clap – and before anyone knew what was happening, the Vatican rang with thunderous applause.

Tito released his maestro, who was weeping freely. He said, “I never did forget that lesson you taught me.”

“What lesson was that, Padre?”

Tito smiled. “The power of forgiveness.”

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