This is a special story set 2 weeks after Chapter 14, so you may pick up a few spoilers, if you read the story carefully. There are major plot points in here for Book 2 on a wider conflict that our heroes get themselves entangled into.
Update 2/7/16-Changed font and background color to make it easier for readers
0's and 1's Christmas Special:
One Man's Worth
This story takes place 2 weeks after the events of Chapter 12 of 0's and 1's: CBDT on December 24th, Christmas Eve. A character involved in the story will play a major role in Book 2 of 0's and 1's.
Please note, this story is both touching and unnerving; it is important to the story, but some members may find it far too terrifying a prospect to read.
(December 24th, Italy)
Alexandre Souza was returning from his long trip around the Americas for Jorge, his "Boss"; although Jorge would never admit to being his "Boss". His Argentinian ideals would not allow it. Being Brazilian himself, he enjoys the rapid fire banter and contradictions he has exchanged, especially in regards to football. Still, even though they began life speaking different languages and championing different national teams at the world cup, he has nothing but admiration for Jorge's acumen, honesty, and tolerance for many things, including himself. As Alexandre passed through another group of Swiss Guardsmen with honorifics of "Apostolic Nuncio" or his usual "Archbishop", he entered the private chambers of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a beautiful residence he has stayed at while doing business with Jorge. It also happens to be where Jorge prefers to live and work, instead of the stuffy aristocratic apartments the Italians prefer. Of course, these buildings pale in comparison to the grandeur of the ancient Quirinal Palace, the original residence, but that is now occupied by the Italian President. Neither Alexandre nor Jorge complained as that gaudy palace represented an autocratic elitist Church of the past, which neither wished to see again. Alexandre thought it was ironic the Italians would use it in such public capacity, knowing its history.
Entering the audience chamber, Alexandre was escorted by a handsome young man, who he knew served as Jorge's chamberlain. The Camerlengo was finishing his report on financial performance, expenses, and fund disbursements between the departments. Jorge saw Alexandre and waved to dismiss the financial report and with a wordless nod, his other retainers left the room to allow a private conversation. Jorge had always preferred speaking in his native Argentinian Spanish versus the bastardized vulgate Latin of the Church or his haphazardly truncated Italian. Alexandre being Brazilian is a native Portuguese speaker, but he was also fluent in the neighboring dialects of Spanish, so he understood from the privacy that Jorge wished to speak in his native tongue.
"I see the Americas have treated you very well; even better than me."
Alexandre knew it was in jest, but he had to be even more humble and follow protocol, "No your Holiness, you are the chosen of Saint Peter. Of course they treat you with greater respect."
Jorge smiled broadly, then turning deathly serious in contemplation of some divine principle, "The best measure of a man is not how he treats those who he views in esteem, but those who he views as below his interests. You are my Nuncio, Alexandre. I sent you there to visit the places I could not earlier as a measure of goodwill and to gauge their conscience clearer with less pomp. Now tell me, Alexandre, did they treat you well?"
Alexandre knew he was about open the meat of the diplomatic mission, "They treated me with respect, your holiness. Some of them were friendly, some opened their arms in good faith, and even their churches despite their differences with us. Still, there were many others, many in the United States among the Protestants, who had beggars on the streets merely blocks away, while they entertained me with food and tales of Christ's salvation for their members. I heard tales of miracles, critical decisions made by faith alone, and tales of extraordinary courage created by "our Lord". Throughout it all, I felt shame; how can they call themselves men of God, if they have forgotten their fellow man in the cold? How can they speak of miracles, when they have forgotten who made blind men see and lame beggars walk? How can they speak of courage and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, when the price of the meal we ate, could be used to provide blankets for ten, clothing for twenty, and food for fifty beggars? They think we have misjudged and misinterpreted Christ's teachings; perhaps, they should spend more time in the seminary before standing before their pulpits."
"It is tragic that they are so wealthy and powerful, but lack compassion, at a time in our history where we have enough food and clothing for all mankind. Still, we have the same crisis in our own Church. There is too much waste and excess; too much usury and money games of businessmen, and too much false faith. My Camerlengo told me moments ago that Church expenses have risen by 27% over the last year, but our missions and charity work have only added up to 11% of the expenses. Some of these Bishops and Cardinals treat money like water from a fountain. Sometimes, I wish I could ask the Roman Curia to enforce a vow of poverty on all who wear the cloth like the Franciscans, but I fear that would start another Schism."
Alexandre softly gave off a laugh, which he quickly muffled and apologized, "Forgive me your Holiness for I have transgressed against your words."
Jorge bellowed a strong laugh, "By the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I release and absolve you Archbishop Alexandre Souza, Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See, from prior transgressions done unto me with a harmless laugh. Now, as a Jesuit yourself, what type of self-punishment should be brought upon you?"
Alexandre knew he was being played by the 79 year old man, but he obliged, "I am left without precedent your holiness, but I will accept whatever you believe is most appropriate."
Jorge had picked up a scroll from his desk and made a swift motion to hand it to Alexandre, "Then from this date December twenty-fourth, in the year of our lord two thousand fifteen, I name thee Alexandre Souza, Cardinal-Bishop to the Holy See with..."
Alexandre was quick to retort, "Your Holiness cannot do this without the Curia and if word gets out to the Italian Paparazzi, you would face a real risk."
"What have you done to anger the Roman Curia or Italian media? Have you blasphemed against the Church? Have you violated any doctrine? Have you done any acts such as the abuse of children under your charge?"
Alexandre shook his head at all those questions in negative and at the last question he was vehemently negative, "I have stood by my convictions your Holiness and the Church's doctrines and principles. If I knew a priest had abused his young charges, God may be able to forgive, but I could not. No your Holiness, the issue as you know, is that I was involved with another man prior to taking my oaths. I had been faithful to him and he to me, until he passed away of cancer. Such things are unknown to most, but if I am made a Cardinal; how can I avoid this revelation? In a time, when others attack the church for scandals of sex perversity and major motion films have made fortunes on our misery, how can I, a scion of the Church, add to its misery?"
"Even without you, Alexandre, there are many who wish to attack our holy Church. Why do you feel you are unworthy? How does your prior choice affect my judgment of your rank?"
"Your Holiness, I cannot remove my feelings or my empathy for those who shared my passions. I visited a hospital on my journeys, and wished to see a young man who was attacked for his sexuality. I could not visit him to give blessings as his "special friend" angrily asked for my departure. I wanted to confess to this angry boy, to tell him God is not judgmental or bias against him, and he could accept my prayers without fear. How can I be a good Cardinal with such limitations?"
"I chose you to be my Nuncio and you have performed admirably. As a priest, your record was impeccable. As a Bishop, it has been unimpeachable. As for your sexuality, you have never taken another lover and have kept your vow of celibacy ever since the death. You understand the Church under tradition and doctrine cannot support your past actions, nor consecrate the love you had, but you answered the calling of God in any case. When I approached other Cardinals in the Curia, they gave me the same response, but I said unto them, `He has fought the good fight, has followed the course, and kept the faith', the attributes of a Cardinal. The Church has lasted two thousand years since our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross and returned to give us his blessings, if we are to last another two thousand years, we must understand and tolerate all people, who answer to God's calling. I cannot change the Will of God or how others view his will, but I can open the path to a better future for all Christians, no for all people on God's green fertile earth."
Alexandre looked down at the official document in front of him, "When will this be announced?"
"Today, before Mass in official announcements, the curia will list your new rank in addition to leading a new Episcopal See. I want you to establish missions within the Internet, which will perhaps be the largest See ever established by the Church. It is time we enter the 21st century. Now, enough of that, I want to hear more of your journey across the Americas..."
(Tiber River-Vatican City Checkpoint)
Sayyad Mohammad thanked the Prophet and Allah for the failure of the Italian Gendarmerie to find the hidden AK-47s, grenades, and TATP vests in a secret compartment. The 4 men in the minivan had stolen credentials from a French reporting crew they had been stalking for days. Last night, they had attacked and killed the crew, when they had gotten lost in the winding streets of Rome. With false papers, passports, and a large minivan with the ability to carry massive amounts of explosives and weapons, they had all the necessary resources for their plan.
Sayyad and the other 3 were chosen because they spoke fluent French and they were fair skinned. Despite how "open" and "free" Europeans had grown, the image of an Arabic Christian still inspires more suspicion than a fairer skinned Muslim.
Sayyad joked in Arabic after they passed the checkpoint, "The imperialist dogs knew little of the world outside their homes full of food and possessions. "
Marek, the Chechnyan member of their cell added, "They spend too much time fucking their whores, or for these priests fucking little boys."
Saladin, the oldest member and leader of the cell, angrily admonished both, "Shut up, we do not want to ruin this mission with words. Our brothers have risked too much, lost too much for us to be caught," the other men nodded, "Now, we must remember the plan. I am going in as the "M6" reporter and Marek and Shahin will be my cameramen. The AK-47s, handguns, sniper rifle, and grenades shall be hidden in the equipment we are bringing in. After we kill the infidel Christian Pope along with many of his successors and the other dogs, we shall detonate our vests. Sayyad you will drive the minivan and detonate all the remaining explosives in front of the unholy Basilica, while the fleeing crowds and police are in disarray. In one move, we shall be Martyrs of the highest order, striking at the Heart of Christian invaders."
(1 hour before Christmas Eve Mass, Vatican Press Secretary Offices)
To say it was an easy job to be Holy See's Press Secretary would be a horrible misjudgment of the pressures placed on one man to speak for hundreds of millions of Catholics and their actions. Beyond the Pope, the face of the Church was the Press Secretary, or in his formal title Director of Vatican Press Office. Being a simple Priest, means the press secretary had no access to His Holiness, or to the Curia unless he was called upon to act as spokesman. Of course, he loved his job, but he knew he was under extraordinary scrutiny without rank or title.
His predecessor had not been a Priest, which he felt was wrong from the very start. In practice, he would not openly attack the Press Secretary in his former role at Vatican Radio and Television, but he was unhappy at the idea of a lay person being the face of the Church, and made that his biggest selling point for taking the position. Now, he wished he had given more credit to the old man, who might have walked the tightrope of faith and image far better than he had ever thought.
As he entered the room where journalists were gathering for their debriefing on how the procession of Journalists would be placed, it struck him a bit to see so many non-European news organizations there. Of course, the American muckraking networks had at least one person there in case there was a new policy or scandal to be shown within seconds. In addition, this year African and South American networks seemed to have grown exponentially. There were contingents of Asian journalists as well, and even a few from the Chinese Central News Services, which shocked the Press Secretary until he remembered the Pope personally asking for their inclusion despite their government's persecution of Christians performing rites and customs against their state orthodoxy. While understanding the Pope's desire to include everyone in his Christmas Mass, he knew the aesthetics would not resonate to the rest of the Christian world, especially Protestants who have mocked the Church for its policies on this issue. He noted in his mind that he would have to do damage control over this, later.
Beyond that noteworthy addition, there was another group that looked out of place and quite frankly might be a distraction rather. The Pope invited a Muslim news group to attend his Christmas Mass, which was not unprecedented as Jewish Journalists were always present to report back. However, again the image was bad; the fact was that Islamic Terrorists had recently struck in Europe. While the Pope might want to display unity of all the "Believers" of God, an interfaith display on Christmas Eve was a dangerous gambit. This could hurt next year's Church attendance in France, Spain, and even Italy, if it is not handled precisely and effectively.
It didn't take long before his fears were realized as a question was raised in seamless Parisian accented French by a grey bearded Journalist from M6, one of the largest French TV networks after Canal+, "Excuse me, I am new to these conferences, but I am not comfortable having them near me," pointing to the Muslim Journalists, "I lost my "brothers" in Paris recently."
Then the flood gates opened. A reporter from Sky One, American Conservatives Rupert Murdoch European News outlet, chimed in Italian, "Quite right, this is after all Christmas; I do not feel right having them around."
A young almond skinned man, who was the lead journalist of the Muslim news group, stood up and replied in Italian, "We have been thoroughly searched; our backgrounds questioned, and are not bringing in any equipment. We shall report this event on standard notepads with pen. There is no fear from a pen, I would suspect amongst journalists gathered here," he looked towards the M6 Journalist somberly and apologetically replying in French, "I lost many friends in Beirut, Baghdad, and Aleppo. I can understand your loss and would willingly be placed as far away from you as possible. Those men were not true Muslims or followers of Allah."
Of course, all of this was for show. Saladin wanted to raise the ire against these heretics, who would consort with westerners and Christian invaders. The greater the focus of attention was on them, the less they would suspect a M6 French Journalist of being a fair skinned Syrian or his cameramen Chechnyan terrorists.
The Press Secretary did not know of these machinations, but he was wary of reactions. A notion just occurred to him, if he placed the Muslim Journalists next to the newly promoted Cardinal Alexandre Souza, he could kill two birds with one stone. He wanted the Press to pay less attention to the recent promotion of Cardinal Souza due to his prior homosexual history. By placing them together, he would divert the Press' attention away from the obvious scandal in the wings. While Cardinal takes precedence in placement, Cardinal Alexandre Souza still must officially "accept" his position. At his current rank of Archbishop, the Press Secretary could reduce his visual signature.
After a brief interlude with the Press Secretary, the procession and opening prayers began in earnest with great fanfare. Thousands stood outside St. Peters' Basilica waiting for the Holy Father to make his appearance for opening Mass. The crowd grew silent as he began to take the stage with a deathly stirring that could be heard only faintly if there was anyone not focused on the Pope himself. Then...
Shots were fired, several grenades were thrown, and the Swiss Guard, who had protected the Papacy for 500 years, fell in quick succession to Shahin, who was given a perfect angle of coverage for a camera or sniper rifle. While hundreds were looking for exits or the assailants, the Pope stood defiantly at the podium knowing his own time may be coming to a violent end.
Still, despite all the death and his own personal fear, his first duty was not to save himself, but those who follow him. He looked to the crowd and spoke in Arabic, a line he had practiced, "khudh hayati, walssamah lahum aleaysh (Take my life, let them live)"
Shahin responded with a bullet which precisely penetrated the Pope's forehead, killing him instantly as the video cameras were still rolling for the world to see. His name would forever be remembered in infamy among his brethren. Even if he died today without setting his suicide vest off, he will forever be a symbol of their cause. Ultimately, beyond faith, he wanted glory despite not being as outspoken or aggressive as Sayyad or Marek. With their deed done and scores dead, they threw their final Grenades into the crowd.
Several Cardinals and Bishops were escaping, led by Cardinal Alexandre Souza from the far side of the room, he had been shot in the arm by a stray bullet. Marek saw this and began shooting down the fleeing crowd. Another two stray bullets hit Cardinal Alexandre Souza in the leg and abdomen, making him immobile. He contemplated his own life and his choices; asking for God's forgiveness and hoping to be reunited with Rolando, his dead lover. He felt himself being lifted up by a set of hands and he saw the face of an Arab man, who he cursed at, and struggled to lay a blow without success and they made their way out of the basilica through the same side entry way that the others had escaped through. They heard a set of explosions inside and outside the Church, almost timed in exact precision. It was luck, or divine intervention, that saved them and a handful of Cardinals and Bishops from being part of either explosions or the collapsing superstructure of the Church. It would be an hour before they were rescued by the Gendarmerie, but those few men who did not die will shape the future in ways no one in their time could imagine.
An item is considered "Apostolic" due to direct designated authority from one of Jesus Christ's disciples or Apostles, namely Saint Peter through the current sitting Pope.
Apostolic Nuncio is a Papal Emissary, equal to that of a Diplomatic ambassador by International law along with ecclesiastical authority that is recognized internally by the Roman Catholic Church with the ability to administer Apostolic Nunciatures (equivalent Embassies).
Holy See or Apostolic See is the names for Rome where the Pope holds direct Ecclesiastic Jurisdiction. It is the most important "See" or geographic area of the Roman Catholic Church.
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