Sunday, 17 October 2010
The kind priest moved on slowly through the empty park, his thoughts and prayers in mind. He felt particularly sad at the poverty and desolation around him. He remembered the Biblical story of seven years of plenty and seven years of drought and wondered whether there was a Joseph amongst the nation’s leaders and politicians to guide the country through the economic crisis it was in.
Almost every one of his parishioners had a story to tell about job losses, business closures, bankruptcies and house repossessions. He recalled the Parish Council treasurer’s voice as he said in his Welsh accent, “Sorry to tell you Father … but the Sunday collection is down yet again … for the seventh week running …”
Church funds were low and there was little prospect of financial help from the Bishop. Yet work needed to be done. Some of the brick work in the bell tower was getting loose and needed repair, the electric wiring in the Parish house required up-grading, his car was beginning to show its age … but more important, the number of parishioners who needed urgent financial help was increasing. He knew of families where the children went to bed hungry because of lack of food … and that’s more vital than any work the church needed.
It was getting rather dark when he was awakened from his reveries by the sound of a scuffle in the bushes. The dog growled once or twice but the priest managed to keep him quiet.
He approached the bushes cautiously and discovered three men with their backs to him standing over a fourth man lying on the ground. Obviously the result of an unfair fight
“What’s going on here?” he asked in a quiet yet firm voice.
This startled the three men who turned round suddenly to face him. They were young, early twenties at the most, and looked thuggish and menacing. Not the sort of people you’d like to meet alone in the dark in the middle of a park. Which was precisely the situation Father Ignatius found himself in!
One of the thugs said “What’s it to do with you old man? Walk away and keep your mutt under control or else …”
Father Ignatius pulled back on the dog’s lead as Canis stood there baring his teeth. He looked at the man standing in the middle straight in the eye and said, “You’re Gabbi aren’t you? Named after the Angel Gabriel as I recall; pity you didn’t inherit some of the Angel’s good character!”
The young man who’d spoken previously jumped in again, “Do you know this geezer Gabbi? That’s all we need, someone to identify us!” He moved a few steps forward but Gabbi, who seemed to be the leader of the group, pulled him back.
“Hello Father …” said Gabbi sheepishly.
“Father?” said the third young man, “is this fellow your old dad?”
“Shut it!” commanded Gabbi.
A second or so later the priest spoke again, still in his quiet yet assured voice.
“Tell your friends, Gabbi,” he said, “never to engage someone they do not know. For all they know I might be a martial arts expert and despite my age I may well take the three of you on. Ask them if they want to try!”
None of the youngsters spoke.
“Now then …” continued the priest, “I want you to walk away quietly and go to your homes.
“Oh … and one more thing! Don’t you ever touch one hair from this man’s head. He is under my protection now … as you people might say. If any harm ever comes to him I’ll come after you and make you regret it for the rest of your lives. Understood?”
“Yes Father …” said Gabbi and the three men walked away hurriedly.
The priest bent down to check on the fourth man who had been kicked a few times in the ribs. He was somewhat shaken but not badly hurt. He did not wish to give his name, thanked the priest and then ran away.
Father Ignatius got up and made his way back home with his dog.
The Angel Gabriel may not have been in the park that evening, but Father Ignatius’ Angel was sure there ready to protect him if needs be!