Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Evening Mass had finished half-an-hour ago and the congregation had long departed to their homes. Father Ignatius tidied up in the Sacristy and then entered the church and sat on the front pew, just where he normally sits by the statue of the Virgin Mary. He took his Rosary from his pocket and started praying.
A few minutes later he heard a noise from the back of the church. It sounded as if someone was trying to break into the collection box for the poor.
He got up and hurried to the back. “Is anyone there?” he shouted.
A figure ran out in the dark. He heard something crash to the ground and then he saw the back door open and slowly close again as the spring on the door pulled it shut.
As he reached the exit door at the back of the church Father Ignatius switched on the lights in the porch. He noticed that a small table which had various leaflets and pamphlets for visitors had been knocked to the ground by the escaping intruder. Papers and pamphlets were strewn everywhere.
More out of instinct than intelligent thinking the priest rushed out to the car park … but he saw no one there.
Father Ignatius entered the church again and locked the door behind him. He was somewhat shaken by the whole experience and wondered what he would have done if the intruder attacked him.
He picked up the table and started collecting the papers and pamphlets from the floor. It was then that he noticed that the Crucifix which hung on the wall by the back door was missing.
He opened the door again, instincts taking over his actions once more, and got out. He looked aimlessly everywhere hoping against hope to find the missing Crucifix.
It was then that he saw Father Donald drive in and park his car in the usual place.
Days later, Father Ignatius was walking Canis the dog in the park opposite the church. News of the intruder had been mentioned in the weekly church newsletter and the Crucifix was still missing.
“It’s probably been sold for a few pennies …” thought Father Ignatius, as the dog stopped by a tree to sniff in the delectable canine fragrances deposited there.
At that moment the priest noticed two men approaching him. One was well built and about six feet tall and reminded Father Ignatius of a wrestler he’d seen fighting on TV. The other was slightly smaller and had a scar on his left cheek. They both wore hats and heavy overcoats. They stood about two feet away with their hands in their coat pockets. The giant one had a small matchstick in the corner of his mouth and said nothing.
“Are you Father Ignatius from the church over there?” asked the smaller man.
“Yes … I am …” said the priest holding back the dog on a very tight leash.
“We’ve heard about the break-in you had the other day … that’s terrible …”
“Yes … I suppose it is …” replied Father Ignatius hesitantly, retreating a little to keep the dog from jumping on them. Canis growled once or twice as he pulled on the lead, the hairs on his neck standing almost vertically.
“I’m sorry someone stole the Cross your Holiness.”
“Eh … it’s not your Holiness … you address the Pope as your Holiness …” corrected Father Ignatius and then quickly bit his lip as he remembered who he was speaking to.
“I see …” continued the smaller man, “I know who stole your Cross … rest assured your Holy … rest assured Father Ignatius, that it will be returned to you … with recompense …”
“Thank you … there’s no need for …”
“Enough said …” interrupted the smaller man, as both of them turned round and walked away to the sound of a barking Canis and a priest having difficulty controlling him.
As he arrived back to the Parish house Father Ignatius found a small packet by the church door. It contained the missing Cross and £100 in used notes in an envelope.
The following day two men called on Father Ignatius. They identified themselves as detectives from the local police force. He invited them in the visiting room and offered them tea.
“No thanks …” said the senior one of the two, “we’d just like to ask you a few questions …”
“How can I help you?” asked the priest.
“Yesterday evening you were seen speaking with David Garton and his henchman in the park …”
“I spoke with two men … that’s right …” replied Father Ignatius.
“We’d like to know what they said …” asked the junior detective.
“Well … I’m not sure I can help you …”
“Do you know who these people are?” interrupted the junior.
“No … I’ve never met them before …”
“Well Father,” the senior detective said gently, “let’s say they are unsavory characters …”
“They may have confessed to the break-in which you had here the other day … which by the way you did not report to the police … that’s an offence you know …” interrupted the junior officer again.
“Well …” replied Father Ignatius calmly, “if they had confessed to anything, you know very well that I could not tell you about it …”
“There is such a thing as withholding evidence …” interrupted the junior policeman again.
Before Father Ignatius answered the senior detective spoke again gently.
“Well Father … shall we leave it at that for now. You met up with Garton and Stones, you’d never seen them before yesterday evening, and you do not feel disposed to tell us what they said.”
“Yes that’s right …” replied the priest.
“Good … we won’t trouble you further. But should you change your mind please contact me on this number … by the way I’m pleased to note that the missing Cross is back in its place …”
Before the priest could say anything the detective continued, “shall we say you found it somewhere in the car park … that would be accurate I think …”
Father Ignatius nodded and the policemen left never to return again.
To this day Father Ignatius wonders whether he handled the situation well. He prayed about it often and he was clear in his mind that he should not have said anything to the police; not under those circumstances anyway. But should he perhaps have reached out to the two men in the park? Could he have said something that … perhaps … may have led them to experience the love of Christ?
The £100 was used to buy food for the old people in his Parish.