Being a priest is not really a sedentary job where you work just one day a week and you have plenty of time for leisure and watching TV. Far from it. Sometimes you come face to face with real danger as Father Ignatius can testify.
It was a wet autumn evening with leaves covering the ground, and when they start rotting away and become slimy and slippery; a cold autumn evening with a freezing wind that blows right through you; the kind of evening when you’d much rather be at home by the fireside with a hot cup of chocolate in your hands. Yes ... not the sort of evening to be out and about.
You guessed it ... the phone rang and Father Ignatius was called out as a matter of urgency.
One of his elderly parishioners was very ill and not expected to see the night through. Father Ignatius jumped in his car and drove to one of the less salubrious parts of town where Mrs Bartholomew lived alone with a cat as a pet. As he arrived at her house in a darkly lit street the doctor was just leaving; and a kind neighbour had agreed to stay with her until Mrs Bartholomew’s son and daughter-in-law arrived from another town not so far away.
Father Ignatius stayed with the elderly lady to comfort her and to pray with her until her family arrived at about half-past eleven at night.
As he left the house he said yet another silent prayer for her and made his way, in the drizzling rain, towards his car. He was just a few feet away from the vehicle when suddenly, out of the dark, a young man jumped out from an alleyway brandishing a big knife.
The priest was startled and was fortunate enough to recover his balance on the slippery ground by leaning back on his car.
The young man, hardly visible in the semi-darkness, pointed the knife at Father Ignatius and said, “your wallet mister … and be quick about it …”
The priest could see the long blade shining in the little light that was available from a nearby shop window. Before he could say or do anything the young man lunged forward with the knife aimed at the priest’s chest. Father Ignatius moved sideways as a reflex and felt the knife slide down his side. Somehow, it got caught in his coat pocket pulling forward the youth who slipped badly hitting his head against the car door as he fell to the ground.
The youngster screamed in agony as the blade cut into him.
Father Ignatius stooped down to help him. He had the presence of mind to throw the knife a distance away and told the lad to stay still whilst he fetched some help from the “24/7” shop.
Moments later both an ambulance and the police were on the scene and the youth was taken away.
The following day Father Ignatius called at the police station as advised by the officers. He learnt that the youngster, only 15 years old, was un-employed, and living rough. This was hardly unusual in this desolate town where commerce and industry had long given up hope and departed.
He was asked to make a statement and to help press charges against his would-be assailant, but Father Ignatius had other things in mind. He knew the chief-of-police and somehow managed to get the youngster put in his care without pressing charges for the attempted mugging. It was after all a first-time offence and the police had no previous records of the lad. Three weeks later the priest found him a job with a local farmer.
But the story does not end there.
On the night of the attack Father Ignatius returned home very late into the night. Father Donald and Mrs Davenport the housekeeper were up and worried out of their minds. They did not know where the priest had been.
After getting cleaned up and nursing a nice cup of chocolate in his hands he re-told them that night’s events. Father Donald insisted that in future he’d be the one to go out late at night if necessary. In his early thirties, and half of Ignatius’ age, he thought he should be the one out there, leaving “the old man” at home.
Father Ignatius smiled and said nothing. Then after a pause he confided:
“Tonight, I’ve learnt two things I never realised before. When the situation first started and I thought I was about to die, I discovered that, in reality, I was not afraid of death. We all claim as Christians not to be afraid of death; and when it nearly happened to me, I found out I really wasn't scared at all. I seemed ready for it, but I was more concerned as to whether it would be painful.
“Secondly, I think my Guardian Angel helped me tonight. When the knife came at me at speed, I saw a white shape come between me and the young boy. It was all over in a flash. One second I saw the shape and the next the boy was on the ground in agonizing pain. I'm certain that knife was stopped into going in my chest.”
Unfortunately, in a town where nothing much of interest happens, the story of the attack found its way in the newspapers.
For days afterwards, every time Father Ignatius went to St Andrew’s Catholic School the young boys made karate movements with their hands when they saw him, and called him Father Kung-Fu.