Friday, 15 January 2010
Father Ignatius was a kind and gentle priest, slow to anger and always jovial; and he always put his parishioners first. That’s why most of them thought nothing of approaching him first when they had a problem, no matter the time of day or night.
Early one morning, before he’d even had time to have breakfast and prepare for morning Mass, the phone rang.
“Father Ignatius … have you seen our Rosemary?” cried a frantic Mrs Butterworth.
“Eh … No … I haven’t seen her … not for a few days or so …” replied the confused priest.
“Father …” continued the voice at the other end holding back the obvious tears “we went to wake her up for school and she was not there. Her bed hasn’t been slept in … Jack is out looking for her … we don’t know where to look … we phoned her friends …”
“One moment Sally …” interrupted the priest who called most of his parishioners by their first name, except the snooty ones of course! “One moment … are you saying she left home last night?”
“We think so …” continued the distraught mother sobbing her heart out on the phone.
Father Ignatius managed to calm her down a little and promised to be there immediately after morning Mass. And yet another of his days had been disrupted from the beginning regardless of whatever plans and arrangements he had made.
An hour or so later he was at the Butterworth’s. The parents were totally heart-broken and in a state of panic. They did not know where their daughter was and whether they’d see her again. Had she left town, had she been abducted, is she safe, is she alive … the questions followed each other each one depicting its own horrific ending to a terrible situation.
When the priest managed to calm them down the couple explained that they had an argument with their fifteen-year old the previous night and her father had told her to go to her room. That’s the last they had seen of her and this morning they discovered that her room had not been slept in and she was no where to be seen.
The priest shared their agony deeply but he felt that he had to remain focused and clear-headed if he were to be of any help.
“Have you contacted the police?” he asked.
“No … we contacted all her friends, our neighbours, and the school … but not the police. Well … we didn’t know whether she’ll just turn up as if nothing happened … we didn’t want to bother them …”
The priest looked at his watch and decided that it was perhaps time to contact the authorities, assuming that is that she’s been missing since the previous night. He stayed with the anguished parents to give them moral support whilst the police asked them several questions and took a lot of details.
By late morning Father Ignatius decided to leave the Butterworths but promised to keep in phone contact every so often in case there was some news. Throughout the day he kept his promise with several phone calls and numerous prayers that the young girl might be found safely. But his every call found them more and more in despair as time passed and no news was heard of their missing daughter.
At about ten o’clock that evening, as he drove back to the church the car headlights caught a dark figure by the garage door. At first he thought it was an intruder, then he thought it was perhaps a homeless person sheltering there waiting for his return to beg for some food; an event which happened quite frequently in this poor and desolate town.
He approached the garage door slowly and to his surprise he recognized the young girl.
“Rosemary … what are you doing here?” he said gently, “your parents are worried sick about you …”
“Please don’t tell them I’m here … I can’t face them just now …” she pleaded.
“You look cold … Come in …”
He let her in and sat her by the fire, then proceeded to the kitchen to prepare her something to eat and a hot drink.
She had calmed down a little by the time he returned with a tray of food.
“Where have you been all this time Rosemary?” he asked calmly.
“I spent last night hiding in alley ways … I was frightened but I did not want to go back home … ever …
“This morning I went to the homeless shelter … no body knows me there … I told them I wanted to volunteer to help and they let me … then I thought I’d come here …” she sobbed.
“I’m glad you did … your parents said you had an argument last night … is that why you left?”
Despite her obvious distress and in between tears she managed slowly to tell him what had caused her to run away.
Quite by accident, she had discovered that she was not the natural daughter of the Butterworths. It seems that she was born in another town and was adopted there as a baby before they moved here to start a new life. They had told no one of the adoption and kept it a secret all these years until yesterday when she overheard her parents talking in the kitchen.
Father Ignatius listened calmly throughout and silently prayed for this family torn apart by love.
“Tell me Rosemary …” he asked when she finished talking, “all the time you grew up with your parents, did you at any time suspect that you were adopted?”
“No … how could I?”
“And you see my child …” he continued soothingly, “that’s precisely the point I’m trying to make. You never suspected anything. And that’s because your parents brought you up as if you were their very own … which in a lot of ways you are … they loved you as if you were their own flesh and blood.
“They loved you so much that they did all they could to give you a good and happy life.
“Your loving mother has devoted her life to you. I know for a fact that she loves you very much … how she used to worry when as a toddler you were often sick …
“I remember a few years ago when your father lost his job, he was totally out of his mind as to how he’d be able to provide for you and your mother … in some ways he reminds me of St Joseph. He adopted the baby Jesus as his own son and provided for Him as He grew up …
“I was with your parents this morning, and they were out of their minds with worry. I’ve never seen them so distraught … they didn’t know what to think … where you were … whether you were alive or …
“Anyway … I believe you know, deep inside, that your parents love you very much. I think they meant to tell you the truth some day … but I suppose they never knew when is the right time to tell you. They were probably just as scared of telling you as you are now that you have found out the truth … Shall we go and see them do you think?”
Eventually, after she could cry no longer, he drove her to her parents and witnessed the most loving reunion since the prodigal son returned to his father.