Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Inner Light

The pilgrims continued to pour into the grounds of the church. A short distance away a group of English speaking youth sat in the shade outside a busy cafe, checking their cameras and latest photos. It was Holy Week 1998.

"Helen, you haven't heard a word I said. What's wrong?"

"Sorry Louise. Everything seems strange, even heavy. I can't seem to settle into this pilgrimage."

Louise laughed. "Aw c'mon. Don't tell me you doubt what is happening here. I know these apparitions are not Church approved yet but look at the crowds, it's just amazing."

Helen shook her head. "No, there's something not quite right and I'm sorry, really sorry I did not choose Lourdes or Fatima as I had first intended. The truth is I followed the sheep instead of the shepherd in my kindergarten school of spiritual learning."

Louise was taken aback. "Are you saying you don't believe Our Lady is appearing here?"

"I'm saying something is wrong and that has stayed with me since I arrived." Helen answered.

"Maybe you're under spiritual attack."

Helen looked at her friend in disbelief. "Have you gone into super religiosity mode or spiritual paranoia? Who's been chipping away at your rock of solid foundation?"

Helen looked around and turned back to her friend.

"Do you know that woman over there, the one wearing the big cross around her neck?"

"Yes, I know her but not very well. She joined our prayer meeting last month with her friend." Louise replied.

"Alright then. Let's go over to her and you tell her you feel dreadful when she asks how you are, okay?"

"But I'm feeling pretty good," Louise said.

"I know that, but she doesn't, come on."

"Hello Elsie, how are you enjoying the pilgrimage?" Louise asked as she joined the nearby group.

"It's wonderful", the woman replied. "I was really ill all morning but I offered it up in reparation for our city and country. I'm feeling better this afternoon. And how are you honey?"

"I feel dreadful," Louise answered, "It's been like this since I arrived."

"Oh honey, I'm so sorry. Let me say a prayer."

The woman closed her eyes praying words that everyone could hear, her eyelashes twitching every few seconds. She nodded to herself, short knowing nods. A minute or two passed, then she looked at Louise with a solemn expression.

"Honey, I think you are under spiritual attack. The enemy doesn't want you here."


Walking back along the country road to the guest house, Louise sighed.


"Okay, so what are you saying, Helen? Is that woman just totally ungrounded, is she over the top or is she involved in something like a witches' coven?"

Helen opened the plastic container in her hand. It was hot. She took a drink of water. Looking around the countryside she thought for a moment before replacing the cap on the bottle.

"It's a learning curve for us all. You'll be able to answer your own question."


That evening Helen took a shortcut across the fields. She was thinking about what Andrew had said the night before when they had all gone to the cafe for an evening meal together.

"She's like a rare lily," he told Helen as he looked down at Louise who was sitting at the far end of the long table.

"A rare lily amongst a bunch of daffodils you mean," Helen joked.

"Maybe, maybe not," Andrew teased, "but that would be telling."

"So when do you plan to ask her out?" Helen asked.

He gulped back the remainder of his beer.

"When I pick up a bit more courage", Andrew replied, becoming more hopeful with Helen's smile. "Maybe in a few weeks!"

The heat of the day's sun left the countryside sleepy. She dropped her back-pack and rolled out the field mat before her brown head of hair disappeared from sight. Lying back, she gazed up at the blue sky. A few unexpected clouds passing overhead assured her this too would pass and soon she would be glad to be back home.

"Hi. Looks like you've had the same idea as me."

Helen sat up to see where the American accent came from. A figure sat up a few metres away, her hand waving in the air.

"Hello, well I sure knew it wasn't a voice from above," Helen answered, laughing at the blonde head that popped up out of nowhere.

"Hey! You're Irish. Yep, you are. Oh boy, maybe this is a sign?"

"I fear there is too much here about signs," Helen replied. Seeing a little smudged mascara under the young woman's eyes she asked,

"Did something upset you?"

The young woman stood up and leaned over, her long blonde hair swinging forward into the tall blades of grass as she picked up her mat, back-pack and packet of Marlboro.

"I'm Bernadette." She shook hands with Helen and sat down beside her. "My grandfather is Irish, or should I say was. He died a few years ago. I haven't met anyone else from Ireland until now."

Helen declined with thanks the cigarette offered. Bernadette pulled a slim silver lighter out of her cream slacks. A soft smooth click was barely heard. Her slender fingers with their manicured, pink-painted nails complimented the pastel pink top she wore. She held the lit cigarette in such a manner that one would be allowed to think she was on a coffee break in between movie shots. She was maybe four or five years younger than her newly acquainted pilgrim friend.

"When I started in college it was a shock. Everything was sex, drugs and abortion clinic, all available if required and that was about it. It depressed me. I want to fall in love, follow the moral route. You know, healthy soul, happy heart. I felt I was climbing a mountain but everyone was in my way and I couldn't get past. Even my pals all jumped into the net of buy and sell to reap the cost of pain and unrest afterwards."

Helen listened and wondered what kind of work was ahead for this American lady endowed with a pioneering spirit still in its embryonic stage.

Bernadette checked one of her varnished nails at close scrutiny before continuing. "I decided to go on pilgrimage on this college break. I heard about what's going on here and the apparitions. Before my granddad died - we were so close, he gave me his beads. Said he had them in Ireland, prayed on them everyday and the rosary got him through some pretty bad storms. He said I would have storms too but that the Mass would be my foundation stone with our Lady putting the steps from there in front of me.

Things got tough at college. When they heard I was going on a Catholic pilgrimage, I got the usual cynical and mocking jabs saying maybe I will return with my beads having turned to gold. They knew about my grandfather and the beads, and of course my love of the faith."

"What happened?" Helen asked.

"I lost my beads yesterday evening climbing the mountain and I searched everywhere. Handmade in Ireland, they were beyond a price. They held a deeper meaning than anyone will know."

Helen pondered this unexpected meeting. Here was a beautiful young woman who would obviously stand out in the crowds wherever she went. Already she was a victim of prejudice and reactions for all that she stood for. Her principles and values were evident in her presence coupled with a natural beauty that was her heritage and blessing. She would have many storms ahead, as her grandfather so well knew. But she would be equipped for those storms through her faith in God and closeness to Mary.

"Now I can't find my grandfather's rosary beads. How can I go back without them. It was his gift to me, my link to him and to my prayer."

Helen searched in her own heart. What would she do, she quickly asked herself. It was times like this she wouldn't have minded smoking a cigarette with her American friend!

"Bernadette, your grandfather's beads were to help you set out on the journey. I know those beads were of a personal family link. But seek God within not in external signs. Your grandfather was right in all he said. Stay with that and know the inner house is built on your foundation of prayer."


At supper that night Helen listened to all the stories of who met the alleged visionaries and what they said or what they saw. She wanted to listen with interest but she couldn't. Everyone was there to meet or catch a glimpse of the 'visionaries'. Something wasn't quite right.

The next morning, Helen felt a need to prepare for confession. The image of long queues of people on the church grounds came to mind. Souls unburdening their lot one by one to the priest must be exhausting for him. With that in mind she prayed for the confessor she was yet to meet.

Beneath the hot sun, line after line of each queue continued to grow. Helen walked slowly by. French/English, German/French/Italian, English/Spanish and so forth were the many different languages available. As she was about to turn around and go to the next aisle she read the sign in front of her....English/Portuguese. The queue was moving steadily and before she knew it she had stepped into the line.

The priest took in the approaching penitent in a quick glance. At the end of confessing, Helen looked up and asked,

"Father, I know there is a queue behind me, but may I ask you something about a spiritual matter that will be very brief?"

He thought for a moment and then said something that astonished her.

"Why don't you meet me tomorrow at 11:30 am. Wait for me at the sacristy door after Mass. We will have time to talk then."


Louise was on her second cappuccino after lunch the following day when she saw her pal come out of the building. She jumped up from her chair and ran down the road, her sun hat falling off her head as she caught up with Helen who was walking in the opposite direction.

"How did it go? You were chatting with the priest for ages. Do you know he gives retreats in many countries? What did you talk about?"

"We talked about many things. After giving me wise spiritual counsel regarding my own soul, he then asked me to pray for priests and for the Church. Almost as if he wanted to tell me something but he couldn't. Well, not to a simple soul like myself. I still don't know how I got to speak to such an incredible man of God. I wanted to cry when it was time to say goodbye, it was almost like a sadness. I didn't understand why I felt that, I still don't."


It was Holy Week, two years to the day since her pilgrimage. Helen felt a strong need to pray for the priest who had spoken so much to her heart then. Once again she prayed for him in thanksgiving for his spiritual guidance and extraordinary wisdom. As she did so the words from Scripture came to mind..."A sword will pierce your own soul too, so that the secret thoughts of many hearts will be laid bare." The prophetic words of Simeon took her aback and left her thinking about the priest.

The thought of dropping him a line came to mind but she shied away from doing so, telling herself he must be inundated with mail and would have no recollection of her meeting with him.

"I thought you should read this," Louise said as she stopped by on her way from work one summer's evening.

Helen opened the newspaper. The priest who had given all his time and attention to an endless flow of pilgrims, offering them clean spiritual water to drink, had finally decided to speak publicly.

Helen sat down. Those moments of kneeling before this priest on pilgrimage were before her again. Now here he was in the news.

He could no longer endorse, approve or encourage pilgrims to visit this place of alleged apparitions. What he had come to understand after a time of prayer, fasting, observing, and speaking to the alleged visionaries, confirmed his fears. He did not believe the Mother of God was appearing there.

Helen was silent. Her heart sank. Why had she not followed that prompting to write to this holy man. That night she took out pad and pen and wrote to the priest.

Already the Judas' in the camp feared the priest Helen had knelt before. In his faithful service to God, the Spirit of the Lord was speaking to him and those in the camp knew that and were secretly plotting and planning his removal.

"A sword will pierce your own soul too, so that the secret thoughts of many hearts will be laid bare." And now Helen knew how deep the sword must have pierced his heart.


The letter box gave a little rattle. Helen walked out to the hallway and picked up the airmail letter. Returning to the living room she opened and read the pages. She read and re-read his handwritten reply. He confirmed the article she had read in the newspaper was what he had said. Then Helen read about the horror of the plot and how they had him removed. What he had not mentioned to her were the death threats that he was still receiving, of which she had only come to know about.

That night Helen watched the movie The Song of Bernadette. She was struck by the actress' portrayal of the young seer. Her gracious manner, simplicity and refreshing honesty touched all who had met Bernadette. After the film Helen sat there drinking coffee, thinking about the pilgrimage she had made a few years previously. How could she have overlooked Lourdes or Fatima and allowed herself to be diverted to a place that was shrouded in secrets and strange happenings.

She recalled a story about Bernadette. A businessman arrived in Lourdes, sought out the young seer and pressed money into her hand. The visionary thanked him but returned the money to him and said,

"It burns in my hand."

There were many questions to be answered about the alleged apparations that were still taking place in the country she had visited in Europe. As the network promoting the 'messages' was growing, so too were the questions about how it really began and who exactly or what group was involved from the beginning with the children. The Lord had sent his messenger and in plotting, they found a way to have him removed.


Across the Atlantic ocean, in a country parish many miles from city lights and sensational news, a priest knelt in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He had been busy writing that day. Finally seeing beyond his anguish and pain at all that had happened, he was consoled by the fact that certain souls were destined to have crossed his path and what God has blessed, there the flowers would bloom. His work was done, for now.

The doorbell rang. It was Louise and Andrew. She picked up her airmail letter to drop in the post box en route to their engagement party. She grabbed her coat.

As the letter slipped through the post box she whispered a prayer for her priest friend - the priest who had sipped from the cup of suffering. The same priest who like John the Baptist had prepared the way in speaking the truth. It would only be a matter of time.

"Those who sow in tears will reap in joy!"



All stories written on this blog are copyright © ownership of Cló Mhuire. The contents in part or whole may not be copied, used or reproduced without permisson from the writer.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

To Set The Captives Free

It was a cool, dry night in late August 1889 when a young Irishman knelt on the ground near where the apparition of Our Lady had taken place. Taking off his cap, he bowed his head and prayed, Blessed Mother, I place my life entirely into your care. You know my faults and failings. You know when I fall, when I am struck down by the very curse of alcohol itself, and so it is to you I call for help. Please stay with me. Don’t leave me and when the evening of life falls upon me, may it be you, Blessed Mother, who will take me home.

Remaining on his knees Seán moved a few feet to the left, facing the spot where St. Joseph had appeared. Again, cap in hand, he bowed his head. St. Joseph, please be with my wife and two children. Be their guard and shield against all adversity. May I find comfort in knowing that you protect my family.

Praying more hastily to St. John the Evangelist, he continued, Bishop John, may you intercede for me and my fellow countrymen and for the rightful reclaiming of our land and Ireland’s freedom.

Thinking of the Lamb on the Altar he concluded;

May the Lamb of God have mercy on our brave men who have recently died and on me at the hour of my death, amen.

The young nationalist remained there for a few moments when a sudden dread came over him. Don’t go, his inner instinct whispered, Don’t go.

Standing up, he walked over to a group of men and shook each one’s hand, some of them unable to hide their tears as yet another voice for the people had to leave his country.

“I will write as soon as I have news of the situation here,” Andrew, a member of the group assured him. “Soon you will return again. I’ll make sure your wife and children get safely home tonight.”

“Let’s go, Seán,” a man standing nearby whispered. “Time is pressing on.”

Holding his wife Anna and their two young children John and Joseph close to him, Seán kissed them goodbye.

“I’ll be waiting for you my love,” she whispered, all choked up. “I’ll be waiting for your return to your family and homeland.”

It was the last time Anna and Seán held each other.

The glorious summer of 1978 enticed artists out of their studios and poets from their pub corners. Botanists toured along the Irish coastland, eager to make further studies on the seaweed by the coastal rocks. Flowers dressed in vibrant yellow sat along the lush green fields. Lilac blossoms and Irish Eyebrights won the visitors’ attention with their pretty bouquets of purple and white decorating the rugged landscape. Trees, heavy with blushing apples, lowered their branches as the harvest season drew near.

On the north-west coast of the country in late July two men were finishing up after a long day. The driver of the tractor waved cheerio to his companion in the field as he drove out onto the country road. Owen was heading for the pub. A pint of Harp would go down well after a great day’s harvest. He lit his Woodbine tobacco and tipped his hat to the evening sun.

Back in the field the whistling youth picked up his farm tools, delighted with the last of the windrows baled. He knew his grandparents would be pleased. As he walked across the field something happened. John was suddenly hit with a dizzy spell.

With his hand on his forehead, he made for the nearby hay stack where his lunch bag sat on the grass. The field began to fade in front of him. He leaned against the sturdy stack and eased himself gently down onto the grass. Reaching for his bag he took out the flask and poured the remainder of the tea into the cup. He was dehydrated. This was the second dizzy spell in a few months. The same strangest longing for a shot of whiskey came over him. John couldn’t understand it as he didn’t drink alcohol. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and his chest. He felt he was in fever. The young man drew up his knees and leaning forward, pressed his forehead upon them. Moments passed and he felt the dizziness subside. It was then he had the strangest experience.

With his forehead resting upon his knees and his left hand dropped to the side, John felt like he was a prisoner chained, with sweat pouring from his weak body. His ankle pinched as if it was trapped in a fetter and he wondered where such a thought came from. The area around his ankle bone became itchy. He took off his boots and socks. There was nothing there, no sign of swelling or insect bites. The young man looked up and around him. He pulled his socks back on, thinking the whole thing very odd. He remained in deep thought as the rhythm of the ocean waves lulled his pounding heart. He rested there a while.

After a short nap, John awoke to the sound of the gulls calling out as they flew overhead. His heart filled with gratitude as he looked at the beauty around him.

He reached inside his pocket and pulled out a pad and pen. The gathering waves from the ocean below, racing into the shore, added a passionate power and free movement to his thinking, as his creative spirit nudged the inspired writer. The sea breeze hurriedly flicked over the pages of his pad, and John grinned as nature played with him in his intention to capture the magnificence of God’s creation in his own words.

A short time passed when he had a sudden need to pray. His early morning and evening prayer had become as natural to him as the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tides. Taking out his beads John turned to Mary. He had not yet finished the last decade of the rosary when he suddenly fell into a deep silence unable to continue. His very soul seemed to be dipped into an ocean of grace from where his spirit was drawn upward to meet with an unseen holy presence that was light itself.

The sound of a tractor broke the silence as a voice shouted from the open gate,

“John, your grandmother is wondering what’s taking you so long. Supper was ready an hour ago.”

He opened his eyes, the experience still evident in his countenance. He wondered how two hours could pass that only felt like a few minutes.

John had no idea what lay ahead.

One month later, on a warm August afternoon, the two men from the north-west arrived at Knock Shrine. The basilica was already full of pilgrims and they were lucky to spy a few empty seats in the second row from the back, with a full view of the altar down in the centre.

Halfway through the Mass, celebrating the Queenship of Mary, something happened that would remain forever in the memory and heart of John.

They had arrived unseen, unheard. The very walls of the building seemed to open out revealing an even greater number in the fields outside. The Liturgy of the Eucharist had just begun.

Immediately after the final blessing, unable to wait for the closing hymn, John slipped out of his seat and walked out the side exit. Owen followed.

“What is it, John? What happened?”

He shook his head, first in disbelief and then in astonishment. Sitting down on a bench he stared into the distant countryside and gathered his thoughts. Overwhelmed at what he had just experienced, John felt an unexplainable pain in his heart and a need to cry at the realisation of what this could mean.

“So many of them,” he shook his head, “so many.”

“Who are ‘them’ John?” Owen asked.

John’s deep composure and inner peace left Owen in no doubt. He knew his friend well.

“Do you mean souls? You mean souls, don’t you?”

John nodded.

“Let’s go over to the Apparition Chapel and spend a few minutes there before we head home,” Owen suggested.

They both knelt down at the apparition site. John asked Our Lady’s intercession that God, in His generosity of grace, might grant him clarity in what it all meant. They remained there for some time.

Outside, sitting on a bench, John related to his long time friend what he had seen.

Owen listened to every word as he continued.

“Though they were not seen with physical eyes they were all there. Closest to me and a little above to my right, there was a brown haired man whose face was hollow-cheeked. He was chained. His shoulder blades were like a hanger for the old shirt he wore. He was bone thin. His head was bowed. He held a cap in his hand and he was looking to the altar where all the priests were concelebrating. Suddenly he raised his head and looked directly over at me. He looked like someone I know. He was about my own age. His gaze returned to the altar as the priests began the Liturgy of the Eucharist. He turned to look at me again before the entire scene disappeared.”

“Do you know about Archdeacon Cavanagh? He was parish priest at the time of the apparition in 1879?”

“I heard of him, but know very little about him,” John replied.

Owen stood up.

“Let’s take a walk over to where he’s buried.”

“The Archdeacon had just offered his hundredth Mass for the souls in purgatory, before the apparition took place. He was known far and wide as a saintly man,” Owen continued.

“Archdeacon Cavanagh gave the Last Rites to thousands of dying souls, many of whom he found homeless and starving. They came from all over to this humble pastor. My father tells me that my great grandfather, Patrick, went to him for confession and received his blessing before he set sail for America.”

John stopped outside the parish church and turned to Owen.

“That’s it!” he exclaimed. “That’s why he looked like someone I know, the man chained I mean. He looks like my grandfather Joseph. His father Seán went to America in 1889. He lost contact with his family. Nothing was ever heard of him again. My grandfather said his mother Anna never gave up hoping. Granddad used to hear her sobbing in her bed at night and he said he and his brother John felt a terrible gloom about the whole thing. For years she prayed and waited, even walking the beach every time a ship was in sight, praying he would be on it.”

Owen and John did their homework. The record of Seán’s passage on the ship that August of 1889 was found and a copy sent to John. His great grandfather’s arrival on Staten Island was also confirmed. The last piece of information took the longest. Prison archives were checked in New York and surrounding states. Finally they found what they had been looking for.

A record from an old prison south of New York City revealed Sean’s name and details. In October 1889, he was sent to prison on a charge of being drunk and disorderly and confined to a cell. He died in that prison five months later.

Fr. Peter, a man of deep personal prayer, was a spiritual director long enough to discern the difference between that which is of God and that which is of something else. He knew before his nephew’s friend had finished speaking, that John’s experiences from the evening in the field to what had happened during the Mass were very real. The priest thought it providential that his holiday to his brother in Ireland was at this particular time. He also believed he had more to take back with him to the United States, to his parishioners, than the promised holy water from Knock.

“Would you like to write about all that you have experienced John, to have it published?”

”No thank you, Father.”

”Why not, if I may ask?” the priest probed already knowing what the answer would be.

“What the Lord has blessed me with is not for monetary gain, Fr. Peter, it is for souls. I am a simple farmer and fisherman who would be poorer without God in my every day. I am not a seer, but if I were it would be even more important that I remain private regarding such things. You are free to speak of this matter, if it will have meaning for others, but without revealing my name. God’s graces are my wealth. This is sufficient for me and something I am deeply thankful for.”

He continued.

“I am a happy man to know a Mass will be offered by you, Father, for the soul of my great grandfather. Through the forgiveness of sins and by your priestly ministry, there awaits his spiritual freedom from the chains which have bound him in life and death.”

Father Peter asked one thing of John.

“Please write down everything and keep writing. I hope we meet again.”

The Mass for his great grandfather Seán was arranged by Fr. Peter. During the Mass, as he listened to the words…The Lord will open to them the gate of paradise and they will return to that homeland where there is no death, but everlasting joy, John thought of what he had experienced and what the pain in his heart had meant.

Little did he know as he knelt at the consecration, that his knees pressed into the very spot where his great grandfather had knelt on that August night of 1889, before his departure for America.

“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…”

John bowed his head and prayed for Seán.

At the same time that the Mass was being celebrated in this rural chapel in the West of Ireland, something was happening on an old site where once stood a prison, south of New York City. For with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day…

A young Irishman had lain in death on a cold, damp prison ground, his swollen ankle locked in a rusty manacle. Now, as the Mass came to an end, the spirit of Seán was lifted from the chains of death into eternal life, accompanied home by Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fallen Angels

The woman took off her glasses and gently rubbed her eyes.

"My daughter has a drug problem. It’s all connected and I was too afraid to even look at it until a few months ago. I miss my husband deeply since his sudden death. When I’m at Mass, it’s as if he’s there in the communion of saints watching over me and saying, ‘have courage, bring the truth into the light.’ I have to do that," Agnes said to her guests.

With her daughter in college, now was the best time to have her friends staying. What Agnes asked of them was confidentiality in what she was about to say. That would also be their protection.

The following morning began with early Mass, and time before the Blessed Sacrament. Agnes, Rebekah and Rose arrived at the church. Agnes looked tired. The dark rings under her eyes told the story of recent months as the sun’s rays filtered through the stained glass window onto her face.

A petite woman and a heavyweight man in a tracksuit appeared through the sacristy doorway. The husband sat in the empty seat behind the visitors while his wife went into the front pew carrying a Bible. She smiled at her children as they walked to the altar to serve at Mass.

A creepy feeling moved up the back of Rebekah’s neck. As the congregation sang the entrance hymn, she found herself turning around to meet the stare of the man in the navy blue tracksuit. Strands of greyish blond hair were pulled in greasy straps across his head. His bloodshot eyes reverted to the hymn sheet.

The young girl in the white serving vestment sat down beside her brother to the side of the altar, as the readings of the day began. She kept looking down at her parents with a mixture of fear and fatigue in her expression. Sophia’s brother turned sideways in his seat with his back to the tabernacle, making strange humming sounds as he pulled at his long alb. His agitation grew as he sat there, his feet swinging back and forth.

Ten year old Sophia moved as if she was sleep walking, her thin body taking slow steps around the altar. She looked like she had not had any sleep all night. A righteous anger welled up in Rebekah as she shot a furious look to the mother. Agnes gave a slight cough, reminding her visitors to stay cool.

Sophia's younger brother ran across the church car park towards his father’s car. Rebekah stopped in front of him.

"Hi there!"

"Hi,” he replied, kicking the loose pebbles around him.

"Did I see you looking at the statue of Our Lady during Mass with a little question on your heart and an anxious frown on your wee forehead?" Rebekah asked, walking alongside him.

"Mom said I'm not supposed to ask questions or talk to anyone, especially strangers."

"Okay. Let’s see. Tell you what, if you want to tell me a secret, I can't tell anyone unless I have your permission, because a secret is a promise between only a few, right?” She waited.

"Do you want my permission?" The young dark haired child asked wide eyed.

"Sure. If you tell me a secret about a question or a worry you have, I could then ask you if I can tell the secret to my two friends, only if I think they should be told. But they have to keep it a secret. That way I don’t break the promise if I have your permission. What do you think?” Rebekah asked, putting a finger to her lips.

He looked around to see if his parents had come out of the church yet.

“I'll tell you why I was looking at Our Lady's statue,” he whispered, putting his finger to his lips in imitation, as he glanced towards the sacristy door.

“We have a small statue of Our Lady in our house. One night I couldn’t sleep and went downstairs to my mom. There were other adults upstairs.” His fear-filled eyes grew wider as his voice went even lower.

“She had friends in the living room. It was real late. They were standing around the statue and it was on fire. I cried and mom told me it was a party and to go back to bed, that they were putting out the fire. My mom and dad told me not to tell anyone, if I did I would be punished. It is the same as the statue in the church, only the church one is real big, so I was afraid that would go on fire too."

The nervous child clutched his right hand with his left, and stood back a few steps, watching for the stranger’s reaction.

Rebekah hunkered down to meet the child’s height.

"Do you think I could tell my two friends so they can keep an eye on it? That way I know it will be perfectly safe, even at night, because I’m only here on holidays?" Agnes’ guest asked gently.

Shaking hands in an agreed deal, she put her index finger to her lips again. The child responded in like manner, giving the sweetest smile. He ran across the tarmacadam. At the car door he turned around and looked back at the lady with the funny accent. He shook his head slowly from side to side, rolling his eyes towards his father as he appeared from the sacristy door.

"The couple who walked out from the sacristy are Greta and Malcolm Liveston, that’s the heavy guy in the tracksuit who sat behind us,” Agnes said as they walked into the house.

“Does Greta Liveston have the keys to the church?” Rebekah enquired, as they prepared breakfast.

“She is the sacristan, so yes,” Agnes answered. “They have taken over several ministries. Even cleaning the priest’s house is part of it, with Greta Liveston’s sister stepping in there. Shelly McCabe is her name. She lives in an apartment on her own just down the street from the church. She also brings over cooked lunches to the new priest, in her tight jeans and low top.”

“Tell us about Damien. We saw you chatting outside,” Agnes asked Rebekah, as they sat down to a pancake breakfast. As the child’s secret was confided, her worst fears were realised.

“We moved into this neighbourhood fifteen years ago,” Agnes continued with her story. “The next day Greta Liveston arrived over to introduce herself. She offered to baby-sit my four year old daughter while my husband and I attended Mass or if we wanted to go out for an evening. The reason I was taken in with them is because the husband has a theology degree which he acquired from online distance learning. He set up a prayer group in the parish. She is sacristan and Eucharistic minister.

I have been involved in pro-life work for a long time, as you know. So when they said they also were involved, I thought it was great. They even have Our Lady of Guadelupe stickers on the back windows of their cars and a large image in their house.

I deeply regret leaving my daughter with that couple. My husband was very uneasy about it and I ignored his unease. But how could I have seen through such smooth operators?”

Agnes took a deep breath.

“New neighbours moved in next door a short while ago. They took their child to the local playschool. That’s the premises adjoining the parish church rented by friends of the Livestons. Louise took her baby out after five days as the child cried and didn’t want to go back. I don’t think the mom is happy. I think she’s feeling something is amiss.”

"Does the priest know about the Livestons and friends, or is he a friend of theirs?" Rose asked.

"No, as far as I know, he is new to the parish. He only arrived a few weeks ago.”

Night set in. Agnes was restless.

"I need to go for a drive, anyone else?" Agnes asked. Rose picked up her sweater and cell phone.

Rebekah declined. She wanted to watch the documentary on tattoos and their connection with the occult and ritualism. She took her coffee over to the couch and switched on the DVD. She couldn't shake off the feeling that they were in a neighbourhood which held very dark secrets. Her thoughts returned to the sweet child Damien, and the way his eyes directed her to danger.

"It was unbelievable, just unbelievable!" Rose exclaimed, as she took two coffee mugs from the wooden rack.

"Tell me!” Rebekah asked, sitting up on the couch and looking over at Agnes.

"I was driving down the road, when suddenly I had this great desire to do a U-turn, and head back towards the parish church. I parked the car across the road in the cul-de-sac, directly opposite the church entrance, reversing a little until the car was unseen from the main road."

"So?” Rebekah waited as Agnes took off her jacket.

“We just sat in the car with our eyes fixed on the church. About ten minutes later, just coming up to 10 o’clock, a white van appeared. We slipped down in our seats as the driver indicated left into the church driveway. He drove straight through to the back car park.”

"Did the driver see you?"

"No. The car lights were off. I needed to see what was going on. So we jumped out and ran across the road. We went in through the garden to the other side of the parish house. To our astonishment, as we peeped around the wall, we saw him opening the garage door with a key and then unloading boxes. We ran back to the car and got out of there as quick as lighting before he drove out.”

“I think I’ll go lie down and put a damp cloth on my forehead,” Rose half joked.

The next morning at Mass, Rebekah slipped out of the pew and asked the sacristan if she could use the bathroom. While washing her hands, the visitor looked out the window to see a white van pulling up outside. She went out through the side entrance and took the man by surprise.

"Good morning. Do you need assistance?" Rebekah asked, looking over his shoulder at the rows of boxes stacked inside the garage door.

The man was in his mid-forties. A tattoo decorated his upper left arm. Loud heavy rock music screeched out from the open window of his van.

"No thanks.” He replied coolly, looking her up and down.

“I'm just taking some DVDs here for our shop on the high street. We don't have enough storage space there, so we asked Father Don if we could store them here."

“Did you see where the boxes were from or anything written on them?” Agnes asked Rebekah as she drove out of the car park.

“The top box on the stack nearest me had a foreign name and address on a sticker label with a black rose also on it.”

How could I have been so blind, or so proud?” Agnes cried, sitting down on the couch. “My husband felt something was wrong. I didn’t believe him. He thought Greta Liveston a strange and disturbing woman when he met her. He felt the same with her sister and their friends.”

“What about the prayer group that you mentioned?” Rose asked.

“The husband runs it. They have a healing service. The wife and her sister are part of it as well with the couple who own the video store."

“Let me guess,” Rebekah spoke. “They avoid praying the rosary with people by recommending novenas instead. When they turn up for Adoration, which would not be regularly, it’s with some kind of prayer book or note book.”

"So the sacristan, Greta Liveston, who is also a Eucharistic minister, has access to the consecrated hosts?” Do they have the meetings in private houses?” Rose looked at Agnes.

“Yes.”

After discussing it with Agnes and Rebekah, Rose made some calls to friends around the globe asking for intercessory prayer for a private matter that was very grave.

Faithful priests of the Lord in the inner sanctuaries offered Masses, religious sisters living their vows, knelt in prayer. Laity kept vigil before Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and met with Mary in the rosary through the ongoing intercessory petition of prayer. It would happen when least expected.

It was on a Monday afternoon when Agnes was driving by and saw two cars parked either side of the parish grounds. One man was standing beside his car, speaking on a cell phone. Agnes got out of her car and walked over to him.

"What are you doing here? Who are you?"

"We are private investigators, m'am. Are you in this parish?"

Agnes turned over in her sleep. In the dream a group of people had gathered in a familiar living room while the neighbourhood slept. It was Malcolm Liveston’s house. Agnes cried out at what she saw going on in the room, and trembled. Her eyes shot open. She sat up and checked the time. It was 2:30 am. Her friends were sleeping soundly in the rooms next to hers.

The next morning Rebekah checked everything was in her suitcase before closing it. "Are you sure you will be okay?" She looked at Agnes.

"Would I let you leave if I didn’t think you should go? Psalm 27 gives me strength and comfort,” her brave friend replied. "Rose isn't too far away, she'll be back."

Agnes locked the front door of her house and leaned back against the heavy wood for a few moments. Rose had left two hours earlier. It was right not to have mentioned the frightening dream that had woken her up. It was enough to know Rebekah and Rose had to leave immediately. Once safely home, she would call and tell them. There was no knowing what would happen next.

She took a coffee into the garden, her small peaceful sanctuary where she could think. Agnes sat beneath the willow tree where her husband had sat each evening reading the Psalms. The wide gracious branches swayed slowly with the summer breeze, like a heavenly fan soothing her anxious heart. The air was fresh and clean. Looking around at her new flowers in bloom, Agnes felt a new chapter was also opening up in her life.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she spoke with her daughter on the cell phone. They had a lot to catch up on. A new friendship had begun between mother and daughter. After the call she let out a peaceful sigh and whispered to her beloved departed, “everything’s going to be fine now, Mark, just fine.”