LAST SUMMER, A VISITOR
Father Burgess was a Franciscan Priest. St. Kolbe’s was a small and modest church set within a quiet ancient fishing village on the south coast, he had been resident for five years. There were around thirty five to forty regular worshipers who would attend every service, morning and evenings. During the summer months the small church would receive a large number of visitors; last summer came a visitor that had, in some ways, remained.
It had been a very hot mid July day, approaching five p.m. when Father Burgess encountered the young man.
He appeared to be no more than seventeen or eighteen years old, but it was difficult to guess accurately; he was very unkempt, filthy, dressed in thin and worn clothing, his shoes were tattered and beaten. There were perhaps three, four visitors within the church when the young stranger made his entrance.
He slowly walked down the center of the aisle, he paused half a dozen yards before the altar and eased himself down onto his knees; he crossed himself and then looked up at the huge hanging wooden and porcelain crucifix before he closed his eyes, cupped his hands and began to pray. The young visitor remained that way for twenty five minutes; the small church was now empty.
Father Burgess sat silently at the back of the altar; a dull nagging feeling deep inside told him not to approach the young man, don’t get involved; over the thirty something years, he’d seen enough and heard of tragedy; but this was a house of God that welcomes and loves all that enter and he was a Servant of God and in eighteen months time, he would be an ‘officially retired’ Servant of God.
The ragged young visitor rose to his feet and unsteadily made his way to sit upon a pew; he leaned forward and buried his face in his folded arms; he began whispering and muttering softly.
From the back of the altar Father Burgess watched the young man; he could hear his whispering but he could not make out anything of what he was saying.
After fifteen minutes the ragged young stranger sat upright and stared towards the altar.
Father Burgess made his move.
“I’m Father Burgess, I look after St. Kolbe’s, it’s nice to meet you” he said with a smile and out-stretching his hand towards the ragged youngster.
The stranger looked at the hand before him like it was some kind of threat, he raised his head and looked in surprise at the smiling Priest and then, suddenly, clasped both of his hands around that of Father Burgess’s.
Although neglected in appearance, the young man was extremely handsome with the deepest of summer sky blue eyes; he was beautiful; his tasseled hair, black, dirty and long, fell across his shoulders, his face was sharp edged and masculine, despite his young age. For several agonizing minutes the young man began to try and speak but his words were ravaged by a violent stuttering. Father Burgess could see, sense and feel the frustration and the desperation of the young soul before him. The beautiful blue eyes began to tear a little and quietness briefly overcame him.
Then quite suddenly, the young ragged visitor began to very softly whisper The Lord’s Prayer without a pause or hint of a stutter.
Father Burgess crouched down beside the youngster, their hands still clasped together, he spoke the words of The Lord’s Prayer in silent unison with him.
Several long moments of quietness followed The Lord’s Prayer.
The ragged youngster withdrew his hands from around those of the Priest’s “Sorry” he whispered.
“You have nothing to apologize for, not here” said Father Burgess softly.
The disheveled figure shook his head furiously and rose to his feet. Father Burgess stood up and moved back a couple of paces. The visitor again attempted to speak but again the words would not mature but would disappear in the gnarling and pitiful sounds of the vicious stammering and stuttering. He continued to shake his head.
“It’s okay” said Father Burgess “it’s okay”.
“Thank you” the ragged youngster brokenly whispered as he passed by Father Burgess and into the aisle, he began to walk and hobble towards the door; he paused, turned around and in a loud unbroken voice said, “Thank you”, the words ricocheted through the church for a few moments and then, like his words; the young stranger visitor was gone. Forever.
Father Burgess walked to the altar and knelt down before it. He lifted his hands and gently dabbed at his moist eyes; in eighteen months, he thought, in eighteen months.
The door opened and closed behind him, he turned around to see some regular faces arriving early for evening mass; he rose to his feet and with a wide, warm and generous smile greeted the people.
John D Robinson